01 May, 2010

It's Preposterous

...to be asked to shell out for something which should be free.

The disturbing part is how many airlines are openly flouting the law. I'm referring, of course, to the recent flight disruptions associated with the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafiallajökull.

(I hope I've pronounced that correctly.)

According to EU law, anyone unable to travel thanks to a cancelled flight has certain rights. These include (but aren't limited to) accommodation, taxi to and from the airport, meals and two phone calls. These rights are not affected regardless of whether the airline was at fault, and they still apply if the cancellations were caused by a natural disaster such as a huge load of ash in the sky.

While I have no doubt that the law was intended for times that the unforseeable was limited to, say, one whole plane that couldn't fly, or one whole runway closed, or one whole airport closed, or one whole country's airspace closed - for better or for worse, there is NO CLAUSE in the law which allows an airline to get out of these obligations, regardless whose fault it was.

Ok, ok, I'm just a blogger, don't take my word for it. Check out the plain English version of this law on Wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_261/2004 .

Ok, ok, Wikipedia isn't always accurate - so if you're brave, the actual legal text is here http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32004R0261:EN:HTML:NOT . Note carefully: it's written quite clearly that if the disaster wasn't the airlines' fault, they get out of paying compensation money. But there is nothing saying they get out of providing the hotel, taxi, food and phone calls.

This law extends OUTSIDE the EU when a passenger is flying into, or out of, the EU. So yes, if the customer is stuck in the USA but trying to get to the EU - they're still covered by the law. So it's particularly galling that airlines are flat out saying "no". I have heard first-hand from passengers that the airlines are saying they won't. They are also refusing to give passengers a copy of the regulation - which by law, they must do.

These reports are coming from at least one airlines' Official Facebook page. Not mentioning any particular airlines (let's just say it's three letters in the alphabet, in a row, and is vaguely royal and reminds me of clogs and windmills). Shame, shame, shame. One airline's partner in the USA is even telling passengers they're entitled to these things, and directing passengers to call their airline - and yet the call centre of the airline itself is still saying no? Shame on you. I think you'd better get your collective story straight, before someone thinks to start a class action suit, don't you?

I've been very lucky that (touch wood) my flights aren't affected by the ash. I've been "fortunate" enough to have important legal documents badly delayed by the disruptions though, and I can only imagine the distress of people who were stuck on the wrong side of the world for weeks on end, without the cash to feed and shelter themselves. Airlines saying no should have been horribly embarrassed to allow that.

But in a dirty nod to a rather entrepeneurial UK-based airline Flybe, I have just received an email with this abhorrant invitation enclosed.

Note carefully:

(1) They're offering to provide accommodation if I'm unable to depart. This is the responsibility of the airline even if I don't buy the insurance.
(2) Car hire: If I can't leave home, why would I need this?
(3) Ferry: I presume they're offering this instead of a flight. If they don't fly me, they MUST either get me there some other way (like say, a ferry) or give me a full refund. Paying for insurance to get a ferry doesn't look quite so attractive when it's the slower, lesser-value solution they had to give me for free anyway.

Or, let's look at the second part.

(1) Accommodation if I'm stuck and can't get home. This is the responsibility of the airline even if I don't buy the insurance.
(2) Travel expenses... hrm, do you mean like meals when I haven't got a kitchen to cook in, and a taxi back to the airport because I haven't got a car, and a few phone calls because I haven't got a phone? These things are ALL the responsibility of the airline even if I don't buy the insurance.

So, let's sum up what my calculations say that I get for the value price of £6.99 per person per leg (total cost: £55.92):


What an... attractive... deal, Flybe. Sign me up for a dozen.