When British Airways canceled Lawrence Karp’s recent flight from London to Philadelphia, the airline rebooked him and the other three people in his party on a flight to Newark, N.J. But it denied his EU 261 claim, the European air travel protection law.
Why? According to British Airways, a cabin crew strike caused the flight cancellation. And it contends this strike relieves the airline of paying the EU 261 claim. Does it?
A rejected EU 261 claim
Karp isn’t the only European air passenger to be denied an EU 261 claim lately. Iberia also denied Beth Agnew’s EU 261 claim after a flight cancellation and seat downgrade. In Agnew’s case, Iberia canceled the flight because of a technical fault. And although Austrian Airlines provided Mary Kopacz with a hotel room and a flight the following day, it ignored her EU 261 claim.
Karp and Kopacz were entitled to compensation of 600 euros apiece for delays and cancellations of flights over 3,500 kilometers. And because Iberia had involuntarily downgraded Agnew, she should have received between 30 and 75 percent of the price of her original ticket.
Both British Airways and Iberia invoked a provision of EU 261 that relieves airlines of their obligation to provide compensation when delays and cancellations are the result of “extraordinary circumstances” in denying Karp’s and Agnew’s claims.
As we’ve previously noted, we’re seeing a significant rise in the number of EU 261 denials based on “extraordinary circumstances.” Because the term lacks a transparent definition, airlines subject to EU 261 appear to be gaming the loophole in denying claims. This has led to a European Union Court of Justice ruling that “unforeseen technical problems” cannot be invoked to deny EU 261 compensation, but “hidden manufacturing defects” and acts of sabotage and terrorism can.
Unfortunately, when our advocacy director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, spoke to our executive contacts at both Iberia and British Airways, they remained unwilling to approve the EU261 claims. Friedman also reached out to Austrian Airlines on Kopacz’s behalf, but the airline never responded to her contact before publication of our story about the case.
Each country subject to EU 261 has a national enforcement body which handles complaints against airlines based in their respective countries. Complaints can be filed by completing Air Passenger Rights EU Complaint Form, which asks for flight information details and questions, such as whether the passengers arrived at the check-in and boarding gates before the times stated on their tickets, and whether the airlines provided them with information about their rights.
Appealing an EU 261 claim to a higher authority
When both British Airways and Iberia reiterated their refusals of Karp’s and Agnew’s EU 261 claims, Friedman advised both Karp and Agnew to file complaints with the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority and Spain’s Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aérea. Kopacz filed with Austria’s Agentur für Passagier- und Fahrgastrechte, as you’ll see below.
Complaining to the national enforcement bodies would not necessarily elicit the compensation from any of the airlines. But it does allow the authorities to review their cases and sanction the airlines for wrongful denial of their claims.
We subsequently heard from Karp and Kopacz. After Karp filed a complaint with the Civil Aviation Authority about his case, he received the following from British Airways:
On reviewing the claim, we are prepared to offer EU compensation with no admission of liability. The distance of the disrupted journey is more than 3,500 kilometers as calculated in accordance with EU legislation; therefore each Passenger is entitled to 600 euros which is a total [of] 2,400 euros, and converts to $2,881.46. We will also cover the travel expenses to Philadelphia, which were quoted as $100 on provision of receipts.
Karp accepted the offer.
...And more success
After we published Kopacz’s story, we learned that she had filed a claim with The Agency for Passenger Rights in Austria. It contacted Austrian Airlines about her case. In the comments on that story, a representative of Austrian Airlines announced that the airline would “of course” pay her EU 261 claim.
Hopefully, Agnew’s case will have a similar resolution. And we hope that the European Union will come up with a solid definition of “extraordinary circumstances” to close this loophole.