Getting cheap flights is one thing, but what if your flight is delayed for hours or it gets cancelled altogether? Here is the first part of a Skyscanner Australia guide to your rights when you fly.
What happens if my flight is delayed or cancelled in Australia?
You arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Then you see the Departure Board and check your flight status. You notice some flight delays and even some flight cancellations. You gulp. Then you find your flight has been delayed by two hours. Or, worse, it’s been cancelled entirely. This means you will probably miss your connecting flight, or you’ll arrive at your destination too late to do what you’d planned. It might also means a lot of time hanging around the airport, being bored.
If you were lucky you might have received an email or text from the airline before you left home, telling you that your flight was delayed or cancelled. That’s nice of them. But, it still means your plans are messed up.
So, what are your rights when it comes to delays and cancellations? Well, in Australia you don’t really have any. In Australia, airlines don’t have to guarantee their timetable. They have agreed to get you from one place to another, but when they do this is up to them. If you miss a connecting flight then they don’t have to help you out either.
Of course, it’s good business practice to keep customers happy, even on cheap flights, so in reality an airline will try and smooth things out for you if they want you to fly with them again.
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What happens if my flight is delayed or cancelled in the USA or Europe?
What about flights to and from the USA? In the US the situation is very similar to Australia when it comes to delays and cancelled flights.
And flights to and from Europe? Here things are a bit different. Passengers are entitled to compensation if the flight arrives at your destination more than three hours late, and:
- The flight was within the European Union (EU) and operated by either a EU or a non-EU airline.
- The flight arrives in the EU from outside the EU and is operated by a EU airline.
- The flight departs from the EU to a non-EU country and is operated by a EU or non-EU airline.
This also applies when it comes to planes flying in from Norway, Iceland and Switzerland - countries that are not members of the EU - as well as other places like Reunion Island, the Canary Islands, and Madeira.
However, none of this applies if the cancellation or delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances, like a volcanic ash cloud or severe weather.
As for the amount of compensation you can get, this depends on the flight distance, and whether or not the airline offers you another transport option.
There's more. In Europe, passengers are also entitled to meals, refreshments, and things like telephone calls, if there is a delay for more than two hours for any reason, even if there are extraordinary circumstances. If a flight is rescheduled for the following day they must also be offered hotel accommodation.
Check here for more details on your rights in Europe.
In New Zealand you are entitled to compensation to cover reasonable, including missed flight connections, if factors beyond the airline’s control occur. There are even compensation rules if you fly within Indonesia.
How do I get a refund for a delayed or cancelled flight?
In Australia it’s up to the airline to decide whether to give you a refund if a flight is delayed or cancelled. Generally, airlines will want to keep you happy and if the delay or cancellation is caused by something like a mechanical problem or a staffing issue then it’s more likely that the airline will give you a refund if you ask for it. Although they might be more inclined to put you on another flight.
The airline might also provide you with meals, refreshments, or accommodation.
If the delay or cancellation was out of the airline’s control, for example the weather was awful or there was a bird strike that needed urgent mechanical attention, then the airline is much less likely to give you a refund, and good luck getting any meals or accommodation out of them.
Meanwhile, in Europe, if the delay or cancellation is caused by any reason, including extraordinary circumstances, and passengers are stranded for more than five hours they are entitled to a refund, and a return flight to the first point of departure, if relevant.
What if I get to the airport too late and miss my flight?
It’s not uncommon for people to turn up a day late for their flight, or to get the flight time wrong, or to be held up on the way to the airport by traffic. An airline might show pity, especially if there are seats available on a later flight, but they don’t have to. I once missed a flight in Bangkok because of my own stupidity and Thai Airways put me on the next flight with no issues, and really nice smiles. I was very, very grateful.
Sometimes an airline might just point out that your ticket was only for the flight that you missed. Then you have to look at insurance options.
What happens if the airline I'm travelling on goes bankrupt?
There are several routes you can take if the airline you booked on collapses.
Incidentally, in early 2017 I booked four tickets for myself, my wife and my two children to fly with Air Berlin from Iceland to Berlin. My flight was booked for this January. I found out that the airline had collapsed a few months after it went bankrupt, and then only by chance. The airline didn’t inform me.
After doing some research I concluded that all my options for a refund seemed hopeless. If only I had bought them using a credit card, rather than my debit card! Then, I read, I could get a refund. I contacted Mastercard anyway, and they refunded me for the whole amount despite this.
You might not always get the outcome you'd hope for with a delayed or cancelled flight, but knowing the rules in each country certainly helps.
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