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Flight cancellations: What are your rights?

Travel Tips

Cape Town - Planning travel so often feels like trying to solve a Rubik's cube: just when it seems everything is aligned, and it looks like you're a few steps away from your final destination, you have to take two steps back and one across.

Never is this more true than when factors outside of your control are changed - case in point, flight delays.

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When are passengers covered for compensation?

Flight delays can occur for any number of reasons, says Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA).

“Passengers miss boarding times, inclement weather, flight schedule clashes, aircraft goes technical, etc. Regardless of the reason, the effect remains the same. Passengers arrive late and often this can have a chain reaction resulting in financial loss.”

So when are passengers covered for compensation?

“Airlines are governed by various conventions, including that of the Warsaw and Montreal Convention, which refer to conditions of carriage. Airlines refer to these and include details in their terms and conditions on their website,” says Otto. “Rulings regarding flight delays, which could have exclusions such as force majeure, and factors beyond their control, technical, and acts of terror [are normally listed there].”

Article 19 of the Montreal Convention refers specifically to delays and states the following:

The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo. Nevertheless, the carrier shall not be liable for damage occasioned by delay 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.

Under these conditions, it's unclear exactly what constitutes “all measures”, but “courts have found that airlines have behaved reasonably in delay situations caused by increased security measures, mechanical failures, and weather disruptions.”

Still, it varies from case to case and airline to airline.

The EU also has its own set of rulings which determine cases valid for compensation. In the case of delays, if a flight arrives more than three hours late, passengers are entitled to compensation. It is important to the note the distinction between late departure and late arrival, as only the latter is considered under the EU's flight regulations.

The bottom line is that grounds for compensation depend on both the specific airline and the conditions of the delay, and passengers are advised to consult their travel agency or the specific airline's Conditions of Carriage before filing for claims.

As your ASATA travel agent to assist you when your plans go awry and whether you are entitled to any compensation as a result.

Adapted from a press release for IOL

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