EU rules in Europe when faced with cancellations from Hurricane Sandy; care vs. compensation


I was in Europe when Hurricane Sandy hit. I learned an important lesson about EU rules regarding flight cancellations and the difference between care vs. compensation.

In Europe according to EU regulations the difference between “compensation” and “care” is crucial. “Compensation” is not always required of US airlines flying out of Europe, but “care” — hotel, meals and transport between airport and hotel — is clearly required even in the case of a hurricane or “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.”

Getting help from the airlines was impossible except by going to the airports. Phone lines were jammed and both passengers and agents didn’t really know exactly what the future would bring.

Airline alliances were about useless as well, since only the issuing airline could change tickets and do rebookings according to agents of code-share and alliance partners that I spoke with.

At Milan Malpensa Airport, I had the chance to speak with airline representatives. They had written statements about passenger rights during delays and when faced with cancellations.

AA was handing out a pamphlet titled, “American Airlines would like to apologize for the delay in your journey today.” The pamphlet noted that in the case of cancellations, “…you are entitled to Re-routing, Care, Refund and Compensation as specified in the previous section.”

The next paragraph stated (italics added):

You are not entitled to Compensation when:
• The cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided, even if all reasonable measures had been taken. This includes weather conditions, political instability, strikes, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings.

The AA ticket agents at the desk were pleasant, but stared blankly when asked for hotel costs to be paid. That’s when passengers got the pamphlet.

A BA sales agent who couldn’t help rebook flights and was sending passengers to AA, noted that they should save receipts and send a claim to the Italian Enforcement office and copy AA to be reimbursed for care costs like hotel and meals.

The operative and most important word in the AA pamphlet’s Cancellation section — “…you are entitled to Re-routing, Care, Refund and Compensation as specified in the previous section.” — is CARE.

“Care” is due passengers whatever the circumstances

Here is the relative paragraph from United Airlines’ “NOTICE OF YOUR RIGHTS IN THE EVENT OF DENIED BOARDING, FLIGHT DELAY OR FLIGHT CANCELLATION” that states the rights much more clearly. (Hat tip to Laura Bly at USAToday.)

This notice contains important information about your rights established by European Union regulation in the event that you have a confirmed reservation on a flight of greater than 3,500 kilometers/2175 miles distance and you are involuntarily denied boarding, or your flight is delayed beyond its scheduled departure time as described below or your flight is canceled.

3) Flight Cancellation. If your flight is canceled, we will offer you the following free of charge:
a) meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to the waiting time and two telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e -mail messages;
b) in the event you are re-routed, if the reasonably expected time of departure of the new flight is at least the day after the departure as it was planned for the canceled flight, hotel accommodations where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary or a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary, and transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other).

Any passenger returning from Europe who was delayed by more than a day and had expenses such as hotel, meal or additional transportation costs, due to Hurricane Sandy should file a claim for reimbursement of their “costs of care.” Passengers should be reimbursed for reasonable care costs by the originally-scheduled airline.

The “Duty of Care” is not considered “compensation.”

Requests for reimbursement for “care” should be sent to the national body responsible for the enforcement of regulations in the country where a passenger’s flight originated. In Italy, for example, send your claim for reimbursement to:

Viale di Castro Pretorio, 118
00185 Roma
Tel. +39-06-445-961
Email: [email protected]

Also send a copy of your request for reimbursement to the customer relations department of the airline involved (In this case, American Airlines):

American Airline Customer Relations
PO Box 619612, MD2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612, USA

These rules apply to all European airlines whether the delay affects flights landing in, or taking off from the European Union. It only applies to U.S. airlines when their flights are departing from a European Union airport.

It may not be easy, but when you end up paying more than $500 for your own care — room, meals and transportation — after an airline flight within or from Europe is canceled and you are rebooked three days later, the letter writing and collection of receipts will be worth it.

Good luck.

  • MVFlyer

    The US airlines almost always try to get out of this one, hoping the pax do not know the rules. I’ll bet many of the agents in Europe are not fully versed in the rules either–if they don’t know, the passengers won’t know either. In defense of the airlines, it is somewhat draconian of the EU to require them to pay for hotels and meals due to natural disasters, but the rules are the rules.
    By the way, US airlines are NOT covered by the EU rules when flying to Europe, but the EU airlines are. So if people are stranded trying to get to Europe from the US, US airlines do not have to pay, but EU airlines do.

  • DCTA

    So I really have no complaints about this in terms of “care” but once again, those who did not book with an OTA or diretly with the airline (like Orbitz), did get assistance much faster and easier than those who did…… Our agents for instance were all working from home on Saturday and Sunday before the storm and got almost all out clients re-accomodated even before it ever happened. We took care of people all over Europe (including Italy and on AAL there), Israel, several Asian countries, and Hawaii…. oddly, we had no people with issues in the Caribbean._