Is this enough compensation? A $150 voucher for denied boarding in Bremen

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By Christopher Elliott

The airline canceled Ted Oehlerking’s flight from Bremen, Germany, to Seattle, via Amsterdam, all the way down the line. Although his airline, KLM, put him on the next available flight and upgraded him, it didn’t offer him any financial compensation for the delays.

Thing is, under EU 261, the European airline consumer protection law, his airline owed him €250 for the denied boarding actions and delays — and perhaps more. Here’s the full text of the rule.

It’s worth taking a closer look at how a regulation like this can affect air travel, since the Transportation Department is on the verge of creating a similar set of rules for the domestic airline industry. And it’s worth asking if there’s ever a point when enough compensation is enough.

The ongoing battle with KLM and Delta Air Lines

A subsequent email to Delta Air Lines, KLM’s codeshare partner, generated a form-letter apology, agreeing that Oehlerking and his wife were, indeed, subject to EU compensation rules. It offered him either a €250 in cash or a €350 voucher for the canceled flights. Is that, plus the courtesy upgrade, enough?

Well, it would be if their flight had originated in Amsterdam. But it didn’t. In Bremen, KLM neglected to provide the couple with the mandated compensation, comprising meals, overnight hotel accommodations, transportation to and from the lodgings, as well as two forms of communication, such as telephone calls, fax messages, or emails. The Oehlerkings experienced a delay of approximately one day. (Related: Did KLM lie about her ticket refund?)

“I am truly sorry you were not provided with a goodwill gesture when you were denied boarding on Flight 1754 in Bremen,” the Delta said in it email. “Certainly one of our team members should have assisted you at that time. We want to ensure that the best possible service is provided at all times.”

Oehlerking wants more than an apology.

I don’t want a be a pain to Delta. They did put us up in a hotel in Amsterdam and I did push them to upgade me on a flight to Newark instead of a two-stop trip.

Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to providing our employees with a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

By law they are required to give us €250 for the denied boarding in Bremen and that’s all that is being offered unless I accept a voucher, and then its €350 each.

We also had the two canceled flights from Amsterdam to Seattle spent another day of vacation to hang out at the airport.

Do you think this is an adequate compensation?

Airline obligations

It’s hard to say what is or isn’t adequate. I know EU 261 is a pain in the airlines’ side. I’ve also been accused of misinterpreting the rule a time or two, which is fine. (Hey, I’m a consumer advocate, not a lawyer.)

The way I read the rule, the Oehlerking’s were owed vouchers in Bremen and €250 and another €250 in Amsterdam. KLM correctly paid for their hotel and graciously upgraded them to business class when it rerouted the couple to Seattle via Newark, but its initial response fell short of what the law required, in my opinion.

Oehlerking contacted Delta again and was offered another pair of $150 vouchers. (Here’s what you need to know about the EC 261 and European air travel rights.)

Did they get it right this time? A survey taken this morning says: yes.

And here’s a thought: Is it possible for well-meaning government regulation to place such a burden on an industry that there’s no hope of ever meeting the requirements, which effectively forces it to weasel its way out of the rules every time? It might be smart to look at what’s happening in Europe, specifically with EU 261, before the new DOT regulations become finalized.

We wouldn’t want to end up in the same place.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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