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Plane delays, cancellations, and passenger rights

Airline passengers in Australia and abroad were being warned to expect delays and cancellations this week, after the major booking system known as “Sabre” reportedly crashed.

Many airlines around the world rely on this system and this resulted in significant numbers of passengers at airports in Australia and overseas being stranded, while airlines scrambled to cater for the backlog and bring services back on schedule.

When a crisis like this hits, passengers are often left angry and unclear as to what their rights are when it comes to airline delays, particularly with respect to rules surrounding international travel. Often the terms and conditions of a flight are attached to electronic tickets, or found on the airline websites. Typically for domestic flights, the airlines’ conditions of carriage will stipulate any compensation which may be applicable in the case of a delayed departure or cancelled flight. Passengers should read these documents very carefully and ask for legal advice if they are unsure about anything.

In the case of international flights, an international convention (the Montreal Convention of 1999) may apply to automatically make airlines liable to pay compensation to delayed passengers. This will usually be to the extent that the passenger can prove loss or damage, with an upper limit set out in the Convention.

It is typical for airlines to try to deny any fault and argue against claims made against them under the Convention.  In short, they may try to blame the booking system such as Sabre. The airline might argue they are not responsible for such damages as they have taken “all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for it or them to take such measures”. However, whether that is indeed the case actually requires an examination of the facts of a passenger’s particular circumstances of delay, the damages they claim they suffered, and the airline’s response to their situation.

Under European regulations, passengers departing the European Union (EU) who suffer losses brought about by delays or cancellations may claim certain immediate entitlements from airlines outside of their rights under the Montreal Convention including “care” (for example meals, refreshments, hotels, transport). For cancellation of flights in particular, the remedies can include a statutory-based payment of compensation with amounts up to 600 Euros payable depending on the length of the flight. European Courts have even held  that delays of longer than 3 hours may be classed as “cancellation” and could result in payments of compensation to passengers in addition to care.

It may be that passengers can have damage based claims under both the applicable international Convention and under European regulations as well. To determine if this is the case, anyone affected by airline cancellations or delays should get legal advice as soon as they consider what their losses are.

Shine Lawyers have experts in aviation law, who for no charge are happy to have an initial chat to you about your particular airline incident. If we think that you do indeed have a claim, then we’ll work with you on a no-win no-fee basis to right the wrong that has occurred and together, we’ll make a stand against the airlines.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: August 12, 2013.

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