By Jean Andrews
Imagine arriving at the airport on time only to find that your flight has been canceled due to fog or technical problems. You expect the airline to provide compensation but they claim it is not their responsibility because the cancellation was due to 'extraordinary circumstances' which were beyond their control. After recovering from the shock you would probably turn to your credit card company - or travel insurance policy - for compensation.
If the flight had been delayed for a certain period of time - rather than canceled - travel insurance would normally cover claims related to the delay. A claim for abandonment would not normally qualify, however, until a delay of more than 24 hours had occurred.
It's also no use arguing that as the flight had been scheduled to depart at a specified time on a specific day and had not departed at that time - or any time after that - it should be treated as an 'indefinite delay' or abandonment! Under travel insurance terms and conditions this is not going to fly. Flight delay, flight cancellation, and flight abandonment are normally treated as separate issues.
Many travelers are not aware that airlines are not obliged to offer compensation where extraordinary circumstances (which includes fog) cause cancellation of a flight. Unfortunately, travel insurance generally does not compensate for the cost of tickets for canceled flights either - only for delays of certain periods of time.
If you are booking a flight online, take a minute to check the airline's Terms and Conditions before going ahead. Look for Article 5 of EU Regulation No. 261/2004. To the average person it may seem like annoying mumbo jumbo, but basically it was set up to protect the rights of passengers to monetary compensation if a flight is canceled.
However, it also provides the airlines with a defence that it does not have to pay compensation if there were 'extraordinary circumstances'. Article 5 is quoted under the Flight Cancellation policy of many airlines, and it all looks good... Until you get to No.3 under Article 5, which states:
"An operating air carrier shall not be obliged to pay compensation... if it can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken."
The terminology used to describe extraordinary circumstances in the Flight Cancellation Terms and Conditions of various airlines may differ somewhat, where the circumstances include (but are not limited to): Air traffic control or air traffic management decisions affecting aircraft, weather conditions, civil unrest, political instability, terrorist alerts, security alerts, strikes affecting flight operations, and unexpected flight safety shortcomings. The mention of extraordinary circumstances may not be obvious, but look closer and you will probably find it!
Under current European Union law, EU-based carriers are required to compensate passengers for canceled flights where they are unable to rebook the passengers. However, the airlines often manage to wriggle out of paying by using the 'extraordinary circumstances' rule - or should that read 'loophole'? Extraordinary circumstances is believed to have been used as an excuse for anything from staff problems to technical glitches.
If an airline has to cancel a flight due to extraordinary circumstances it is up to the airline whether to offer alternative flights or any form of compensation, but they are not obliged to do so. Flight cancellation should not be confused with flight delay. If a flight has been canceled, rather than delayed, it will never take off.
Likewise, it cannot be argued that as a flight did not take of at all it constituted a 'delay' of more than 24 hours and should be covered under the 'abandonment' section of a travel insurance policy! (The average person will probably have covered their ears and closed their eyes at this point, due to the fog, and be reduced to loudly chanting la-la-la-la-la).
If your travel plans get caught in the 'extraordinary circumstances' conundrum, and you believe you have a case, try contacting one of the companies that operate on a no-win-no-fee basis to investigate whether an airline's denial of compensation is valid. In the meantime, until the fog clears, the best advice is Buyer Beware!