It might happen to you if you are a frequent traveler: You have a valid ticket and arrive to the airport to take your flight on time, with your correct travel documents (passport or ID, and Visa when is required), to either do the check-in before boarding, or just to take your plane with the boarding pass (because you already did the web-check in). Once there you are informed that your flight is overbooked (because the airline sold more tickets than the number of plane’ sits, usually expecting that not all the passengers who booked a flight will board it).
In that situation you can voluntarily give up your seat (in exchange you may get a new booking on another flight at no extra cost, cash, vouchers or discount codes), and you cannot claim a compensation; or you might be denied boarding against your will.
So if your are denied boarding against your will, it’s important to keep calm and know your rights, because you are often entitled to a compensation.
Guess what, it happened to me as well on my flight from Mendoza to Buenos Aires (Argentina), luckily only once.
I went to El Plumerillo airport on time, early enough to do the check-in, and then I was informed that my flight was overbooked and that I had no sit. So I had no option but to take a later flight.
I was frozen! I felt very frustrated and cheated, but now I know that’s is not that unusual. They just gave me a voucher for a meal at the airport, while I was waiting for the new flight (2,30 hs). Then I learnt that it is always important to do the web check-in as soon as possible and, if it’s not possible to check-in in advance, to go to the airport very early to be among the first passengers to get a sit.
A friend of mine was voluntarily denied boarding in Buenos Aires, when he was traveling to Munich (Germany) for the Oktoberfest, with a previous stop in Madrid. He told me that’s very usual during that time of the year, and that it happened to him twice.
The european airline took him to a nearby hotel, picked him up the following day, and gave him 300 euros in a debit card (the compensation due in this case is double the amount in accordance to the EU Regulation); that money could be used during a certain period of time for booking a new flight, or for getting cash from an ATM.
Last anecdote, I met two young argentinian boys who were going to Spain on a shoestring trip around Europe, and who were very happy because due to an overbooked flight they had accepted a very convenient offer from the airline. They stayed a day longer in Buenos Aires (as my friend), in a paid hotel, took one later flight to their final destination instead of the original two (they had a combined itinerary), and got an immediate compensation that was very high for their budget.
As I told you, it might happen that you are denied boarding, and I just want you to know that you might be entitled to claim a compensation and that you can do it yourself! I’ll guide you through the whole process. The first step is to know the regulations and what rights you have.
There are a many regulations protecting passenger rights, but for people traveling from/to/in Europe, the most relevant is the following:
Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 Common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights, link here.
The Interpretative Guidelines on Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 are also very important, link here.
Check 1. Does it apply to you?
You need to meet one requirement from each category: A, B and C.
A. You shall be a Passenger traveling:
- on a scheduled flight, or
- on a non-scheduled flight, including those forming part of package tours.
B. Your flight shall:
- depart from an airport located in a EC Member State; or
- arrive to an airport situated in a EC Member State, from an airport located in a third country, and if the operating airline is a Community carrier (unless the passenger received benefits or compensation and were given assistance in that third country).
C. You shall face one of these events:
- denied boarding against your will;
- flight cancelled; or
- flight delayed.
Let’s now look at the less common problem: denied boarding against your will. I already explained the other cases in previous posts.
Check 2. What are your rights in case of a denied boarding?
If you meet the requirements from Check 1 (A+B+C), then you need to know which are your rights, in order to get what you’re entitled to. The benefits vary depending on the flight distance.
The concept of denied boarding relates not only to cases of overbooking but also to those where boarding is denied on other grounds, such as operational reasons. It is not applicable for claiming a compensation when boarding is denied by the airline based on health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation; or if you didn’t take the outbound flight of a reservation which included a return flight, or if you didn’t take other flight included in a reservation with consecutive flights, or if you don’t have the relevant documentation for your pet when it is traveling with you.
Check 3. What exactly can you get?
After doing the two previous checks, it’s time to know precisely what your rights are if you are denied boarding (and then how high your compensation might be, depending on the distance of your flight).
A. Right of Assistance
If the airline denies you boarding, and you accept to get a new booking, while waiting for your new flight, you should get:
- meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time (usually you get a voucher that you can use at the airport shops and restaurants, which happened to me several times; don’t expect enough for a fancy meal, in that case you will have to pay the difference), and
- 2 free telephone calls, emails, faxes or telex (old-fashioned telex is still in the regulation);
If your need to stay overnight, you should also get:
- hotel accommodation and transportation between the airport and the hotel. Airlines should also ensure, that accommodation is accessible for people with disabilities and their companions.
B. Reimbursement, re-routing and return flight
If you are denied boarding against your will, you have the right to get -and the airline is obliged to offer- one of the following options:
- Reimbursement of the ticket (for the paid full price if you have different flights booked as a single ticket) and, if you have a connecting flight, a return flight to the airport of departure as soon as possible, or at a later date at your convenience (subject to the availability of seats), or
- Re-routing to your final destination as soon as possible under comparable transport conditions, or
- Re-routing to your final destination at a later date at your convenience under comparable transport conditions (subject to availability).
If you accept a re-reouting, the airline may still have to compensate you depending on the distance of your flight and the length of the delay past your original planned arrival time. If this is your case please check my previous post “How to claim compensation for delayed flights (Part 1: Rules)” link here.
If the airline doesn’t comply with its obligations (offering a re-routing or return flight), it has to reimburse the cost of the ticket; and if it decides to reimburse unilaterally, you have the right to get extra-money (to cover the difference to book a new ticket).
If you are denied boarding against your will, provided that you arrived on time for the check-in and that there are not reasonable grounds to deny you boarding (see “check 4” below), you are entitled to a compensation.
If you have connecting flights (only if you are flying with a single ticket: one reservation and one check-in) and are denied boarding because the airline operating the connecting flight stands that you would arrive too late to board the second flight (as your first flight was delayed) you are also entitled to compensation. If you are denied boarding on the return flight because the airline operating the outbound flight cancelled it and re-routed you on another flight, this constitutes denied boarding, and you have and additional right to claim a compensation.
|1.500 km or less||€250|
|More than 1.500 km (within the EU).|
Between 1.500 and 3.500 km (all other flights)
|More than 3.500 km||€600|
Check 4. When you don’t get a compensation?
I used the words “may” and “should” more than once in the paragraphs above, because there are some reasons which can exempt the airline from paying a compensation if your are denied boarding.
First of all, you have no right to compensation if you voluntarily accept to exchange your flight sits, other reasons are health, safety or security, inadequate travel documentation, or terms and conditions linked to the ticket purchased. To explain it with examples, you have no right to get a compensation if you are denied boarding because of the following circumstances:
- Being intoxicated (drugs or alcohol).
- Behaving in a threatening way, which includes disrupting flight operations.
- Being perceived as a safety or security threat based on your luggage.
- Being refused to board by the airline and its crew due to security concerns based on reasonable grounds.
- Not having the required visa for the country of destination.
- Being late; due to delays at security checks, or because of not respecting the boarding time (of the first flight, or of subsequents flights at the airport of transfer).
- Having a reservation which includes an outbound and a return flight, and not being allowed to board on the return flight because of missing the outbound flight (“no show”).
- Having a reservation which includes two consecutive flights, and not being allowed to board the second flight because of missing the previous flight (“no show”).
- Having the original flight delayed and being re-routed on another flight.
- Traveling with a pet without the relevant pet documentation, except if boarding is denied due to a mistake made by ground staff when checking the travel documents (including visas).
Also remember that extraordinary circumstances, such as air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions, security risks, or any strike that affects the operation of the airline may exempt it from paying compensation in case of cancellations or delays of arrival at the final destination.
That’s it for now. I hope you liked reading this post and find it useful! In the next one, I will explain how to actually claim your rights in case of denied boarding. You will see that you can do it by yourself!
If you have any feedback, comment, or question please let me know. I’ll be very happy to hear from you!
Virginia, a traveling lawyer
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