Before you fly
Passports, visas etc...
Before you book your ticket, make sure you find out about all the travel documents you need, such as your passport, visa, or an inoculation certificate.
If you do not have the right documentation you could be barred from getting on the plane - and you may not be entitled to a refund or to travel on a future flight. You may also be refused entry into the country when you arrive at your destination and be flown straight back. If so, you will not be entitled to a refund from the airline.
Getting to the airport
Make sure that you know the latest check-in time for the flight. This will usually be printed on an 'itinerary' which you will be given with your ticket. If it is not, or if you are not given a printed itinerary, ask the travel agent or the airline.
Remember that the check-in time is the latest time for getting to the check-in desk, not for joining the back of the queue. If you miss the check-in deadline your place on the plane may go to someone on the waiting list and you will have no claim against the airline.
Keep your passport and boarding pass handy. You may have to show them several times before you get on the plane. At the main security checkpoints before departure your hand luggage will be checked. You will walk through a security gate and you may be searched by the security personnel. These checks are to protect everyone.
At busy times there may well be long queues at the security checks, so allow yourself plenty of time. Co-operate with the security staff, and don't make jokes- anything you say will be taken seriously, may delay you and hundreds of others, and might even get you arrested.
Once you have passed these checks you will not be allowed back to the airport reception area.
After you have checked-in and passed through security and passport control you will arrive at the departure lounge.
Remember that some airports do not announce flight departures over the public address system. Look for and keep an eye on the flight indicator screen. These will tell you when to go to the gate for boarding - it is your responsibility to be there on time.
In most departure lounges, there are cafes and bars. Beware of drinking too much whilst you wait for your flight. The Captain has the right to stop you from getting on the plane if he thinks you are drunk. Personnel will stamp 'Refused Boarding' on your ticket and you will probably find that other airlines will also refuse to carry you. You will not be entitled to a refund.
And remember that it takes less alcohol to make you drunk when you're flying because of the pressurization of the aircraft.
Passports, Visas and Photo ID
The passenger is responsible for having all necessary traveling documents. The best way to be sure of having the right documentation is to contact the Embassy or High Commission of the country of destination. This is particularly important for countries requiring a visa in addition to the passport. Beware that these requirements may change.
Do not be confused if airline personnel as to see the passengers' passport at check-in. This is be to check that the passenger checking in is the one named on the ticket (usually for security reasons), and to protect the airline against being fined for carrying a passenger to a country without the passenger having the correct documents for entry.
If you are refused boarding because your papers are not in order, you will have no recourse: if you were traveling on a non-refundable ticket you will not be entitled to get your money back. If you are accepted onto the flight, but nevertheless are refused entry at the country of destination, you cannot later blame the airline. Indeed, under the conditions of your travel, the airline can seek reimbursement from you for any costs it incurred as a result of your failure to carry the necessary documents.
Unfortunately, airline check-in agents do sometimes make mistakes (after all, they are not immigration experts trained in the entry requirements of every country served by their airline). In our experience, most problems are quickly sorted out at the time, and the passenger is put on a later flight, if necessary.
Some airlines, particularly no-frills airlines, require passengers to provide photographic identification in order to travel within Europe. Unfortunately, they do not all accept the same forms of photo ID. They will all accept a passport, and some airlines will accept identity cards such as a valid driving license with photo, a Government-issued smart card, an armed forces identity card or a citizen’s ID card.
Check with the airline or look at its website to see which type of photo ID it accepts. If you come to the airport with the wrong type of ID, you will be turned away at check-in.
Advance Passenger Information
Many countries, including the US, now require airlines to provide additional information about passengers, such as their passport information, before they travel to the country. Airlines prefer that you provide them with this information before going to the airport, in order to prevent delays at check-in. It is in everybody’s interest to follow these security procedures.
Tickets and fares
Different airlines charge different prices for the same trip. An individual airline can also charge different amounts for what appears to be an identical product. For example, the price will usually be different according to how far in advance you book, and you will usually pay more if you want to be able to change your reservation. Peak hour flights are always more expensive: many routes are also seasonal, with fares varying considerably at different times of the year.
But whatever the time of year or day or the conditions of a ticket, airlines are for the most part free to decide for themselves how much they charge. The government does not generally regulate prices.
Many airfares are sold on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. You cannot get your money back if you do not fly. And you may not be able to change to a different flight, even for a fee. Some airlines do allow changes to a new flight, subject to an additional charge and payment of any increase in the price of fare since the original booking was made (but if the fare has gone down you do not get any money back). Most airlines won’t let you transfer your reservation to another person, though some will (again, for a fee) – check with your airline.
Full flexibility (to be able to change to different flights or get a refund) comes at a price that is considerably higher than the low fares that airlines tend to feature in their advertising. Many airlines offer a range of fares with varying degrees of flexibility or penalties for changing the reservation. Some airlines, however, charge an administration fee for a refund even on fully flexible tickets.
Taxes, Fees and Charges
Most airlines list certain taxes and other charges separately from the basic fare on their website booking pages, confirmations and tickets. The taxes, fees and charges (TFC) quoted by airlines on their websites during the booking process include items such as Air Passenger Duty, local airport or ticket taxes, passenger service charges (paid to the airport operator), as well as fuel, security, insurance, and even wheelchair, surcharges. There can be considerable discrepancies in the level of taxes, fees and charges imposed by airlines operating similar or identical routes
Many airlines will refund TFC if you do not use your ticket – even if your ticket is otherwise non-refundable. But there is no law under which they are required to refund these charges. Nor is there any law that prevents an airline from charging an administration fee for processing the refund. In any event, airlines rarely voluntarily refund taxes, fees and charges to passengers who do not travel.
In their terms and conditions, airlines also often reserve the right to ask you to pay for any increases in the amount of TFC, even after you have bought your ticket. But if the amount of TFC decreases once you have bought your ticket then you should ask for a refund.
Many airlines now charge for services that were previously included as part of the fare. These are mostly avoidable charges, and it is a good idea to be aware of them, as it may help you save money. Charges may include:
Many airlines have introduced charges to carry checked-in baggage. You will probably pay less if you pay at the time you book.
Airlines that do not allocate seat reservations may give you the option of boarding sooner than other passengers for a fee, although they may not specify how much sooner you get to board. You may find that this service has already been selected for you, so if you don’t want it, you might have to remove it yourself.
Many airlines now charge credit and debit card fees on bookings. These can vary between airlines. They can be a percentage of the transaction or a set amount per passenger or per flight. Credit card fees are significantly higher than debit card fees. And some airlines that charge for using a credit card do not charge for using a debit card. But remember that using your credit card may provide you with protection against airline bankruptcy that you would not get with a debit card.
Airlines also increasingly apply “hidden” charges which passengers are unaware of until after they have made a booking. This is often because notices about the charges are hidden in the small print. Examples of such charges are:
Airlines are increasingly offering gift vouchers to be given as presents. But the recipients of these gifts often end up paying a charge to use the vouchers. For example vouchers may only be redeemable by telephone, where passengers often have to pay a booking fee.
Most airlines ask passengers to pay charges to carry out various administrative processes. These can include fees for changing reservations (often in addition to any increase in fare), and for refunding tickets.
Airline telephone numbers are often national rate or premium rate. It may therefore cost you extra to make a telephone reservation to sort out a problem with an internet booking. You can instead write to airlines or contact them via their website for free.
Baggage allowance and charges
Until recently, the general practice was for airlines to give all passengers a separate and free allowance for baggage checked into the hold and for baggage taken into the cabin. But this is starting to change. You may now find that you have to pay for any baggage checked into the hold. And the price may be higher if you wait to pay at the airport rather than paying in advance.
In order to avoid a costly surprise, make sure that you know the baggage policies of the airline you plan to fly with before you book – or at least before you start packing.
Details of airlines’ baggage allowance will be on their website. You should be able to get information at their sales outlets or from your travel agent.
If you already have a ticket, the hand luggage allowance will be printed on the ticket itself, and ticket wallets contain additional general information about baggage allowances. For e-tickets, the allowances are usually specified on the confirmation notice.
For hand luggage, there are two types of allowances. You will either have a “weight” allowance or a “piece allowance”. A weight allowance will typically range from 15kg to 60kg per person, depending on the airline. A piece allowance will usually restrict you to two pieces of handluggage. But these tend to be more generous allowances because they typically allow up to 32kg per piece.
Both weight and piece allowances will also have limits on the maximum dimensions allowed for your baggage as well as the weight limits.
For luggage you take with you into the aircraft cabin, the allowance is usually a combination of maximum weight, number of pieces, and maximum size per piece.
If you are on connecting flights, the baggage allowance can be different for each sector depending on the airline or even aircraft. Check before you pack.
Some airlines no longer give free allowances for baggage checked into the hold. If you want to check in your bag, you will have to pay for it. Charges are typically on a “per bag” basis. And they are less if you pay in advance rather than wait until you get to check-in.
You may find that if you airline charges for checked luggage, it compensates by giving a bigger allowance for hand luggage. So you may be able to avoid the charges by packing carefully. But, if you do, beware (see Excess Baggage below).
Many airlines also charge for carrying certain types of baggage such as sports equipment or large musical instruments. This charge can usually be prepaid.
If your hold baggage is more than the allowance, the airline is entitled to charge an excess baggage charge. This could be in addition to any charge you had to pay because your airline does not give free baggage allowances.
If your hand luggage is overweight or too big, you might be asked to check it in to the hold. If doing so takes your hand luggage above alocated allowance, you might have to pay excess baggage charges.
Excess baggage charges can vary considerably. Some airlines have a set rate per extra kilo. Others base their charges on a percentage of the full one-way economy fare. These rates are typically 1-1.5% of the fare per extra kilo. On a long-haul flight this can soon add up to a considerable sum.
The airline can decide whether or not to charge, and very often they do not do so if the baggage is only slightly overweight. But just because an airline does not levy the charge on the outbound leg does not mean that it cannot charge it on the return trip. And for passengers taking a series of flights there may be different excess baggage charge policies depending on the aircraft type or the airline.
Pooling of baggage
Some airlines no longer allow the pooling of hold luggage – this is when the shortfall between the actual weight of a passenger’s bag and their allowance can be used by a traveling companion in addition to their own baggage allowance.
There will be some things that you will not be allowed to take with you because they are classified as “dangerous goods” or are considered a security risk. Check the airline’s website for examples of such items.
Flight Disruptions including Cancellations and Delays
Disruption to flights, such as cancellations and delays, or missed connections, can cause considerable annoyance and inconvenience. But there are no regulations on compensation payments whatever the circumstances of the disruption. Typical airline terms and conditions include clauses which state that schedules and timings (and even dates!) are not guaranteed.
Most airlines follow a Recommended Practice on "General Conditions of Carriage" from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The Recommended Practice is updated from time to time. The clauses on delays and cancellations in the most recent versions give passengers the choice, in the event of cancellation or failure to operate "reasonably according to schedule", of a later flight on the same airline, or of some other "mutually agreed" alternative transportation ("within a reasonable period of time"), or a refund. But sometimes you have to know your rights and insist on your choice!
Cancellation and Delay
In practice, many airlines will provide refreshments or overnight accommodation for passengers whose flights have been cancelled or are subject to a long delay. Or they may transfer passengers to other flights. But very few will voluntarily pay compensation in addition (unless under EU Regulation 261/2004.)
Nevertheless, under provisions in the Montreal Convention, an airline is liable for "damage occasioned by delay" (Articles 19 and 22.1), up to a limit of 4,150 Special Drawing Rights (SDR). However, an airline may not be liable if "it proves that it and its servants and agents took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for it or them to take such measures" (Article 19). In practice, any payment that an airline is prepared to make for a delay will at best be a reimbursement of expenses that it accepts were directly and necessarily incurred as a result of the delay (such as meals or overnight hotel accommodation). Airlines generally do not accept any liability for inconvenience, stress or any consequential losses arising from the delay, unless they are required to do so as a result of court action.
When a flight is cancelled, an airline is contractually obliged to provide alternative transportation (not necessarily by air) or a refund. But most airlines' conditions of carriage specifically exclude liability for any consequential losses. In theory, it should be possible to argue that a cancellation is the same as a delay for the purposes of making a claim under the Montreal Convention (because of the Convention simply refers to "delay in the transportation by air" and a passenger can be delayed as a result of cancellation). But in practice, the two are generally taken to be different.
There are now many ways that you can check in for your flight – at a check-in desk, a self-service airport kiosk or online through an airline’s website. It is no longer simply a case of turning up at the airport, joining the back of queue and passing your tickets and passport over the counter to check-in staff.
Whichever way you to choose to check-in, make sure you do so before the check-in deadline. And remember that the deadline is the latest time for getting to the desk (or self-serve kiosk) and not the back of the queue. If you miss the deadline, the airline has no obligation to put you on a later flight or refund your ticket. If you do arrive with little time to spare and there is a big queue, tell an airline representative - don’t risk missing your flight.
Flight Disruptions including Cancellations and Delays
Disruption to flights, such as cancellations, delays or missed connections can cause considerable annoyance and inconvenience. But there are no regulations on compensation payments whatever the circumstances of the disruption. Typical airline terms and conditions include clauses which state that schedules and timings (and even dates!) are not guaranteed.
Most airlines follow a Recommended Practice on "General Conditions of Carriage" from the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The Recommended Practice is updated from time to time. The clauses on delays and cancellations in the most recent versions give passengers the choice, in the event of cancellation or failure to operate "reasonably according to schedule", of a later flight on the same airline, or some other "mutually agreed" alternative transportation ("within a reasonable period of time"), or a refund. But you have to know your rights and sometimes insist on your choice!
Some countries, such as the United States, have regulations similar to EC Regulation 261/2004, which set out passenger rights for denied boarding. But where there are no specific regulations, you might be able to claim for "damage occasioned by delay" under the Montreal Convention.
All airlines change their schedules from time to time. This can result in significant changes to the time or even date of a flight, but these changes are not the same as flight cancellations. Details of schedule changes should always be notified to passengers in advance.
For significant changes, most airlines will give a refund if the new flight times are not acceptable to the passenger. This includes connecting flights on a single ticket or reservation. But an airline making a schedule change has no responsibility for any connecting flights that you may have booked under separate reservations.
Most airlines’ conditions of carriage simply state that they will make “reasonable efforts”, or will “Endeavour”, to tell passengers about a schedule change. But if the message does not get through and you arrive at the airport at the wrong time, and if the airline considers it did all it could to try to advise of the change, it may ask you to buy a new ticket. If it does, you may have little choice but to pay again and to seek a refund from the airline on your return.
Before you accept a schedule change, be sure that it is not actually a cancellation. If the flight number is different, and if you are being told of a change within 14 days of travel, you might be entitled to refund under Regulation EC 261/2004 on denied boarding, cancellation and delay.
Unfortunately, baggage does not always arrive at its intended destination. Or, if it does, it might turn up damaged or with something missing. When this happens, an airline is liable for the damages under the Montreal Convention. But the Convention puts a maximum limit on the airline’s liability of 1,000 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) per passenger. And it puts a time limit on making claims for compensation.
Delayed baggage (less than 21 days)
The reference to 21 days is taken from the Montreal Convention, and is the period of delay after which an airline must treat a bag as lost. Generally speaking, this makes a difference to how airlines settle claims. There are no set rules for how airlines must assess baggage claims. For delayed baggage, some airlines offer immediate one-off payments at a set amount to cover emergency purchases (such as toiletries or underwear). Some will pay a set amount per day up to a maximum number of days. And others will not make cash payments at the time, but prefer to reimburse expenditure on essential items upon seeing the receipts. But the general principle is to cover essential expenditure resulting from the delay to deliver the baggage.
Delayed baggage (more than 21 days)
If your bag has still not been returned to you within 21 days after your flight, the airline should treat it as lost and settle your claim on that basis (see “lost baggage” below)
The Montreal Convention requires airlines to treat a bag as lost after twenty-one days. In assessing your claim, an airline may well ask for a list of the items that were in the missing bag, and possibly for original receipts. In doing this, they are behaving like insurance companies. They will probably reduce the payment of individual items because of value depreciation. The airline’s maximum liability is 1,000 SDR. You may find you can get a better settlement from your travel insurance. If you claim on an insurance policy, it is likely that your insurer will re-claim the money from your airline or its insurer.
In assessing claims for damaged baggage, most airlines make a payment based on the value of the damaged bag or on any of its contents that were also damaged. They may ask for receipts, and they will probably apply a scale of depreciation to any payment. If it is just the bag or suitcase that is damaged some airlines simply offer a new one from their store cupboard.
Lost or stolen items
Where individual items are missing from baggage it is very difficult to get any compensation from an airline – because it is difficult to prove that the items were there in the first place. This is another reason to use only good quality luggage, not to put valuables in baggage checked into the hold, and to always have travel insurance. Most airlines have a clause in their terms and conditions saying that they do not accept responsibility for perishable or valuable items (such as cameras, camcorders, mobile phones, documents or jewelry). It is arguable whether such exclusions are compatible with the provisions of the Montreal Convention in all circumstances. But remember that an airline is liable only for items that it has agreed to carry. If you packed items in your luggage that were listed as “items unacceptable as baggage” in the airline’s conditions of carriage, you will not be able to make a claim against the airline if they go missing.
Limited Release Tags
When you check in certain items, some airlines attach a Limited Release Tag (LRT). Such items might include musical instruments, sporting equipment (bikes and surfboards etc...) or even prams and buggies. The LRT is intended to remove the airline’s liability if the item is damaged, and you may find that the airline refuses your claim. However, if an airline accepts an item as checked baggage, it must accept liability for it as set out in the Montreal Convention.
If your journey involves connecting between more than one airline, you may be able to check in your bag for the entire journey at the first point of check-in. If you do, and something happens to your luggage, you can claim against any of the airlines that carried it. Some airlines try to blame the other airline and refuse to handle the claim. When they do so, they are in breach of the Montreal Convention.
The Montreal Convention says that an airline is liable for cabin baggage if the airline is to blame for what happens. So our advice is to take care of your personal belongings - take the same precautions as you would in any other public place.
Making a claim
If at all possible, you should report any mishandled baggage problems to the service desk in the baggage collection hall before you leave the airport. It is not a legal requirement to do so, but it is very difficult to make a claim if you do not.
Property Irregularity Report
When you report a baggage problem at the airport, the airline or agent (there will not be separate service desks for every airline) should make out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) and give you a copy. Your airline will want to see the PIR when making a claim. But it is not a legal requirement to have a PIR and an airline should not simply dismiss your claim without one.
The PIR does not itself constitute a formal claim. You will need to write to the airline, within certain time limits (see below), enclosing a copy of the PIR.
The Montreal Convention states that claims should be made to an airline in writing within specified time limits. The time limits are:
Damaged baggage – seven days from the receipt of the bags
Delayed baggage – twenty-one days from delivery
Lost baggage – no time limit specified in the Convention (but we advise making the complaint as soon as possible after the bag has been missing for twenty-one days – see “lost baggage” above).
This advice sheet is designed to deal with the types of problems you may experience when traveling on a charter flight that has been booked either as part of a package holiday or on its own.
What is a charter flight?
Flights are classed as either charter or scheduled and you will need to determine which type of flight you have. It is important to distinguish between the two to determine which company you need to complain to. If you travel on a charter flight your contract will be with the relevant tour operator, rather than the airline. You will, therefore, find that you are bound by the tour operator's terms and conditions, which, in turn, will bind you to the airline's conditions of carriage!
Charter flights are usually operated on a restricted basis - i.e. once or twice a week, on set days, usually to popular tourist holiday destinations, such as the Spanish Costas. Charter (and sometimes scheduled) airline companies operate these flights on behalf of a tour operator, or a number of tour operators sharing the same aircraft.
What is a package holiday?
Package holidays are booked through tour operators and are typically featured in traditional holiday brochures. Package holidays normally consist of at least a flight and accommodation, or a flight and car-hire, sold at an all-inclusive price.
Change of flight times
Flight times quoted at the time of booking (and on your confirmation invoice) are normally provisional and subject to change, usually up to the point when tickets have been dispatched (and occasionally afterwards). If you are unhappy with the changes to your flight times, you may be able to cancel your flights (and holiday if it's a package) or receive compensation. This will generally be the case if the changes are classifed as 'significant' or 'major' - you will need to check your tour operator's terms and conditions. As a rule of thumb, however, alterations usually have to be in excess of 12 hours to fall into this category. However, if your holiday is a weekend break, you may be able to argue that an alteration of less than 12 hours is still significant or major, although you would probably have to go to court and hope that a judge agrees with you!
Flight Delays and luggage problems
Tour operators rely on the limitations of the Warsaw Convention or Montreal Convention for delays and baggage problems. For more information on these see the advice information on Baggage Problems and the Montreal Convention.
Complaining about charter flight problems
For most complaints you should complain directly to the tour operator that chartered the flight, rather than to the airline concerned. This is particularly the case if your flight was part of a package holiday, as the Package Travel Regulations should protect you. This piece of legislation makes a tour operator liable for all aspects of package holidays, including flights, when they are booked as part of a package.
Who else can help?
Many tour operators are members of trade associations, which can offer advice and assistance. If your complaint cannot be resolved with your tour operator, you may be able to refer your complaint to the Airport Administration.
Denied Boarding including Overbooking
Were you on a flight from a European airport or a flight from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU carrier....
....and you voluntarily surrendered your reservation on an overbooked flight?
If you voluntarily surrender your reservation on an overbooked flight, this must be in exchange for benefits under conditions to be agreed upon between you and the carrier. This might be in the form of vouchers.
In addition you are entitled to;
A refund within seven days of the full price you paid for your ticket for the part or parts of your journey you did not make (and for the part or parts already made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to your original travel plans) and a return flight to the departure airport as soon as possible.
Re-routing to your final destination as soon as possible or, if you agree, at a later date. (If the airline flies you to another airport in your destination city then they must pay for the transfer to the airport you were booked for or to another close-by destination of your choice)
....and you were denied boarding against your will?
Denied Boarding including Overbooking (non-volunteers)
If you are unlucky you may turn up at the airport to be told that the flight has been 'overbooked' and there are no seats left on the plane, even though you have a confirmed reservation. If this happens to you at
You are legally entitled to compensation under EU law - provided you have a confirmed reservation and that you arrived at the check-in desk on time.
Overbooking and Denied Boarding Compensation
'Overbooking' is when airlines take more reservations for a flight than there are seats on the plane. This is not illegal. Airlines do it deliberately because they usually expect some of the passengers not to turn up. Usually it works out. But occasionally too many people turn up for a flight, so some of them get left behind (or "bumped").
If you are "bumped" off a flight at an airport in the EU or at an airport outside the EU when flying to an EU airport on an EU airline, then the airline must pay you compensation. This is called Denied Boarding Compensation (or 'DBC'). The rules for payment of DBC are set out in an EC Regulation (EC Council Regulation 261/2004).
This Regulation says that you will be entitled to compensation provided you can satisfy three conditions. These are:
you must have a valid ticket;
you must have a confirmed reservation;
you must have checked-in by the deadline given to you by the airline.
If you can meet these conditions the airline must compensate you in one of three ways.
First, it must give you the choice of:
If you decide not to travel, a refund, within seven days, of the parts of the tickets not used. If it is a connecting flight and you have already made part of the journey and do not want to continue with it, reimbursement of the total price of the ticket (including parts of the journey not made if the flight is no longer serving any purpose in relation to your original travel plans) within seven days and a free flight back to your point of departure.
* You are not entitled (under Regulation 261/2004) to reimbursement of any other components of your trip such as hotel and transfer costs.
Secondly, it must also pay you compensation in cash, cheque or bank transfer. (You can accept vouchers instead of cash if you want to but you don't have to). The minimum amount the airline must give you is set out in the Regulation. The amount you should get depends on the length of your flight and on how late you are in getting to your final destination.
(Compensation should be paid in the local currency depending on the exchange rate)
Thirdly, it must pay for incidental expenses. These are specified in the Regulation as:
Regulation EC1107/2006 sets out rights for “disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when traveling by air”.
Airlines must not refuse to accept a reservation or to carry a passenger on a flight from an airport covered by the Regulation on the grounds of disability or reduced mobility. However, an airline may refuse to take a reservation or allow you to board the aircraft if to do so would be against safety regulations or if the aircraft or its doors are too small.
The Regulation applies to disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility on departure from, on transit through, or on arrival at an airport situated in an EU country. The main parts also apply to disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility departing from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU airline.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the Regulation does not provide any automatic rights for compensation.
Sometimes airlines are unable, for any number of reasons, to fly to the destination printed on the ticket. If your flight is diverted, the airline must get you to the destination airport on your ticket or reservation* - at no extra cost to you. Sometimes the airline may arrange buses or ask you to take a train and send in the receipt to be reimbursed.
*The main exception to this would be if a flight was disrupted to avoid war or civil strife.
It can be disappointing when you do not get the level of service you expect from an airline. But the reality is that there are no regulations setting out what airlines must provide in terms of in-flight service, nor is in-flight service included in the airlines' contracts with their passengers. Airlines thus generally take the line that they cannot be held accountable should one (or more) of the usual elements of their service not be available or not be up to scratch.
Meals and Refreshments
Airlines do not have to provide meals or refreshments. Apart from no-frills airlines, however, most airlines do provide refreshments of some description. If, however, refreshments are not available for some reason, or if the drinks trolley passes you by whilst you are asleep, you should not expect much more than an apology should you subsequently complain to the airline.
A common complaint is that a passenger's preferred choice of meal is no longer available by the time the trolley reaches them. This can be a nuisance if you do not like the meal you are offered, but there is no regulation or legislation under which an airline must ensure that all passengers receive the meal of their choice.
If you have requested a special meal for dietary or religious reasons, it is more than merely frustrating if you get the wrong meal or if the meal is not provided. Unfortunately, however, in the same way that airlines are not required to provide any meals at all, there are no regulations against which they can be held accountable for failing to provide a special meal. Passengers who have serious medical conditions for which they must have specific food or eat at specific times should always carry the necessary foodstuffs with them.
Airlines do not have to provide in-flight entertainment, so if there is none available on your flight, or if the entertainment is not what you were expecting, you should not expect a particularly sympathetic response should you complain. Of course, many airlines use the lure of the most up-to-date entertainment to sell tickets: if pressed, they might offer a modest ''goodwill gesture'' should the promised entertainment not be available. But you have to ask, and the sum would certainly not buy another flight.
The only regulations on seating relate to spacing needed to ensure that passengers can evacuate quickly in an emergency.
Airline seats do not have to recline, nor are there any set comfort standards. Many airlines offer the facility to request a particular seat or seat position (e.g. window seat), but they will not guarantee to honor the request. Indeed, airlines occasionally drop this facility because it causes more trouble than they think it is worth when passengers do not get the seat they thought they had ''booked''.
Some tour operators invite passengers to pay a fee to ensure that all members of a party sit together on a flight.
Pets in the Aircraft Cabin
Some passengers want to be able to take their pets with them in the aircraft cabin. Other passengers do not want to sit anywhere near other passengers' pets. It is entirely up to individual airlines whether they permit pets to travel in the cabin with their owners or whether they insist that pets travel in the hold.
Surprising though it may seem, airlines are not required by law to provide toilets. Thankfully, most of them seem to think that it is a good idea to do so, except perhaps on very small aircraft on very short routes. If one or more of the toilets on board are out of order, there are no regulations under which an airline must compensate passengers for the (er) inconvenience.
Cabin Crew Behavior
Cabin crews are present first and foremost for safety reasons. If they are inattentive, unfriendly or even rude, an airline might investigate a particular incident but would be unlikely to offer much in the way of compensation to an offended passenger. There are no regulations against which airlines can be held accountable if their cabin crew are rude or provide a substandard level of service to their passengers.
If an airline has accused you of being disruptive and taken a sanction against you - such as refusing to carry you - you will find it very difficult to gain compensation. You might even find yourself in court.
If you have been the innocent victim of the bad behavior of a fellow passenger, most airlines would only consider making any sort of compensatory gesture if it could be established that the cabin crew had failed to make any effort to help you at the time. Sadly, they may not always be able to do so if, for example, the flight is full and they cannot offer you a different seat away from the disruptive passenger.
Many air journeys involve changing between flights in order to get to the final destination. Sometimes they involve making a connection between two or more flights on the same airline; sometimes there may be more than one airline involved in providing the transportation. If disruption to one flight causes you to miss your connection, your rights are different depending on whether:
- The flights are on the same ticket, or
- You use seperate reservations to organise your connection
If your flights are all on the same ticket and a flight disruption causes you to miss a connection you should be entitled under the contract to a later flight or to a refund (but beware of the refund option; you may get back less than you expect because of the way refunds for part-completed journeys are calculated).
Most airlines also provide meals or overnight accommodations. This is not a legal obligation, however. When they do not, it is arguable that they should reimburse any reasonable personal expenses in line with the Montreal Convention. But you may have to argue the case in court.
If you organize your own connections (sometimes it will be by far the most convenient option), consider building in extra time to allow for delays.
If you are likely to have any needs for which you think an airline might have to make special arrangements you must discuss them with the airline or travel agent as soon as you start to plan your trip.
You may find that your choice of airline will have to be based on which one can best meet your particular needs. And before you book, ask if the airline is going to charge extra for any special services it has agreed to provide for you.
Some examples of the sorts of needs for which airlines might have to make special arrangements for are if
This list is only a sample. If you are not sure whether your particular requirements fit into the category of 'special needs' ask the airline or the travel agent.
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