Iberia advised us of our “passengers’ rights,” but then ignored them all

Occasionally our advocates encounter cases, like Beth Agnew’s, that make us want to beat our heads against the wall in frustration.

Agnew and her husband had booked tickets for premium class seats on Level, an affiliate of Iberia Airlines. But they found themselves flying the next day on American Airlines in standard economy class.

A canceled flight

Iberia advised the Agnews that they may be entitled to compensation for their canceled flight and involuntary downgrade under the European consumer protection law EU 261 but then refused to issue it.

Unfortunately, the Agnews’ story is yet another instance of airlines availing themselves of a loophole in EU 261 that exempts them from owing compensation to passengers in “extraordinary circumstances” – a term that airlines appear to be applying indiscriminately, often inappropriately.

Agnew and her husband had booked tickets for premium class tickets on Level from Oakland, Calif., to Barcelona. While the Agnews waited in the Oakland airport to board the flight, Level’s gate agents announced that the flight was canceled. The gate agents gave the passengers copies of a one-page document titled “Passengers’ Rights in the Event of Denied Boarding and of Cancellation or Long Delay of Flights.”

EU 261 compensation?

The document indicated that according to EU 261, passengers who experience re-routings of flights that arrive four or more hours later than originally scheduled are entitled to 600 euros ($708) in compensation for the delay. It also mentioned that passengers whose seating is involuntarily downgraded from premier to economy class are entitled to reimbursement of 30 to 75 percent of the ticket price, depending on the length of the flight.

Iberia rebooked the Agnews on an American Airlines flight to Barcelona, departing the following day from Oakland with a connection in Chicago. (Level’s website contains a notation at the bottom of its homepage which indicates that “flights sold under the Level name are operated by Iberia and are subject to the Iberia conditions of carriage.”)

A rejection letter

The Agnews then filed a claim for EU 261 compensation with Iberia, which denied it:

Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused by the cancellation of your flight. We are aware of how important it is to our passengers that trips observe the scheduled time, which is why we make every effort to prevent this from occurring.

On this occasion, we were forced to cancel the flight due to a fault that our technicians had to repair to ensure the safety of your flight. As it was an extraordinary circumstance that we could not prevent, despite taking all the measures at our disposal, [the cancellation circumstances] do not establish any compensation.

With regard to the compensation you request for having voluntarily agreed to travel on [an] alternative flight in economy class, I am writing to inform you that regulations do not consider this matter for compensation.

I have checked the fare that you paid and the one you finally used, but I regret to inform [you] that [there] is no difference to be [reimbursed].

Extraordinary circumstances

Because there is no language in EU 261 that clearly defines “extraordinary circumstances,” airlines subject to EU 261 have been using the term to exempt themselves from paying compensation for delays, cancellations and incidental expenses arising out of situations that don’t seem to qualify.

There’s nothing “extraordinary” about technical faults — and every reason to believe that Iberia could have prevented the circumstances that led it to cancel the Agnews’ flight. Iberia’s suggestion that a technical issue relieves them of any obligation to compensate the passengers who were delayed, re-routed and downgraded insults their — and our — intelligence. So does the suggestion that there is no price difference between the premium seats the Agnews purchased and the economy seats they sat in on the replacement flight.

Even the European Union Court of Justice has indicated in a recent ruling that technical problems do not fall under the definition of “extraordinary circumstances.”

The Agnews might have escalated their complaint to higher-ranking executives of Iberia using the contact information on our website. Instead, they asked our advocates to help them recover the compensation they were due under EU 261 from Iberia.

The bad news

Our advocacy director, Michelle Couch-Friedman reached out to Iberia on the Agnews’ behalf. Although our contacts at Iberia twice promised to investigate their case, the airline reiterated its refusal to issue any compensation to the Agnews. Friedman suggested that the Agnews file a complaint with the European Commission in Spain, which can sanction Iberia for wrongfully denying their claim.

We hate having to treat the Agnews’ story as a Case Dismissed, but Iberia’s stonewalling leaves us with no choice. The best we can hope for is that the European Union will come up with a clearer definition of the term “extraordinary circumstances” and come down hard on airlines that improperly avail themselves of this loophole with stiff penalties.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.