Delayed on Alitalia, but where’s my check?

Tupungato /

Neil Kyle is bumped from an Alitalia flight and then given the runaround when he asks for compensation under Europe’s consumer-protection laws. Is there any way to get him the 600 euros he’s owed?

Question: We were returning from Rome to Vancouver via Toronto last year when we were bumped from our flight by Alitalia. Alitalia rerouted us through London, where we ran into a great deal of difficulty, including a missed flight. Eventually, we caught a flight to Vancouver the next day.

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Alitalia owes us 600 euros, according to the European consumer-protection rules. But the airline has provided an almost perfect case study of an airline employing delay and stonewalling techniques as a means to avoid its regulatory and legal obligations, and to wear down the complainants in the process.

There have been several emails exchanged among us, our travel agent and Alitalia. The airline doesn’t respond to the regulatory and legal-case information raised by us and our travel agent. We have filed a complaint with Canadian authorities, but we also would appreciate your assistance in dealing with Alitalia on this issue. — Neil Kyle, Port Coquitlam, Canada

Answer: You’re right. European regulations — specifically, a law called EU 261 — require Alitalia to compensate you for the denied boarding and delay. Instead, it appears to be giving you the brushoff.

It’s not difficult to see why. European airlines pay only a small percentage of the claims owed under EU 261. Most passengers don’t know of the rule, and it’s written vaguely enough that airline lawyers do an excellent job of convincing passengers that the airlines aren’t required to pay up.

Generally speaking, it also is true that airlines like to continue sending form rejection letters until you give up. That’s actually true for most businesses, not just air carriers. But airlines have perfected it, and no European airline seems to do it better than Alitalia.

A brief, written appeal to an Alitalia executive might have helped. I list each of their names and addresses on my website. But it’s been a while since an appeal to an Alitalia executive has been successful; I would have just sent it to the airline as a courtesy before taking it to the next level.

When an airline won’t budge, your final step is to take this issue to authorities. In addition to the Canadian Transportation Agency, I also might have considered contacting Italian regulators. (In the United States, you would have been able to complain to the U.S. Department of Transportation).

I contacted Alitalia on your behalf. It said that it also heard from Canadian authorities about your case. It apologized for the way in which it handled your claim and paid you the 600 euros you’re owed. It also promised to address your case with customer-care agents “to ensure we avoid similar mistakes in the future.”

Are Europe's consumer-protection laws fair to airlines?

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42 thoughts on “Delayed on Alitalia, but where’s my check?

  1. yes they are fair BUT can you get airlines to follow the rules?

    no, of course not. They will NEVER offer up compensation, a passenger will have to be familiar with the law and persistent.

    if the laws were “unfair” they would require an audit of every airline every year- costing airlines millions (because they screw over THAT many people). but since they are just an option for passangers who might be out allot of money- it seems fair.

    1. Offer up compensation? Some airline charge for water on flights across the Atlantic. Don’t except anything.

  2. Y’know, considering 99% of airline tickets are paid for electronically, the airlines who owe money on these rules should be required to refund directly to the card in 5 business days.

    1. Alternatively, perhaps the EU should require airlines to escrow a certain amount of money for EU261 claims in order to keep their flying certificates. Say, enough for the airline to pay claims for 1% of its passenger volume per year, kept on deposit at all times. Pay claims from that fund, and assess them for the balance due the month following. No pay in 30 days? No fly.

  3. I say we make it easy … DOT should pass a reg requiring airlines to return money owed after no more than 5 days from the event. Starting on Day 6, the airline is required to pay 25% interest on the debt to account for potential credit card interest. Somehow, I think that the airlines would stop dragging their feet.

    You buy a ticket in the US … you get paid in 5 days or they pay you interest regardless of where the debt is incurred… I can hear their lobby screaming now…

  4. I think that the rules regarding compensation for events within the control of the airline–mechanical delays, bumping due to overbooked flights and similar occurrences, are fair and need to be rigorously enforced.
    I admit to being more ambivalent to a 2013 European court ruling,. A European court ruled, that Ryanair had a duty of care to passengers for delays due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010. The court ruled they were not due compensation for the actual delay but were due compensation for the costs incurred waiting for flights to begin again. (Not at all fond of Ryanair but this is a but beyond logical.) I was caught up in that mess and did not expect my air carrier (a European company) to compensate me for the 2 extra days it took me to get home. I realize that this will go against the beliefs of many, but I do not believe that an airline, or any company for that matter, owes me compensation for a problem caused by an act of god/force majeure–something that is totally out of the company’s control. I did not seek compensation for my extra days and just dealt with it.

    1. I’m also baffled at rulings like that. As if any transportation provider could be expected to either foresee or have some magical workaround for a natural disaster. I’m not a fan of how most airlines operate but talk about a no-win: Had they rushed to get people to destinations and compromised safety in the process they’d (rightfully) have been open to all sorts of claims and lawsuits, yet they’re also found liable when they do the prudent thing and wait the problem out.

      1. Joe completely agree with you but one nice effect of the ruling is that there’s effectively 0 benefit to the airlines playing the “weather” game in Europe like they do here. They may not owe you the cash compensation by playing the weather card but they still have to provide food and housing until they do get you to where you are going.

          1. In the case of Denise McDonagh v Ryanair Ltd (C-12/11), the Third Chamber of the European Court of Justice ruled that natural disasters such as the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull and the subsequent cloud of volcanic ash in 2010, which shut down most European air traffic, do constitute “extraordinary circumstances” that release air carriers from the obligation to pay compensation, but that there is no such category as “super-extraordinary circumstances” that would release them from the obligation to provide care. According to the court’s ruling, air carriers continued to have an obligation of care towards passengers under Art. 5 and 8 of the regulation during the week-long shutdown of European airspace, and this obligation does not have a temporal or monetary limit.[8]

            IE … They still have to provide care (food / lodging) but not compensation

          2. Notice that they don’t mention the monetary compensation for a delay, only that they will reroute them.

          3. I think that’s what I said about… “They may not owe you the cash compensation by playing the weather card but they still have to provide food and housing until they do get you to where you are going”

          4. Since there is no reference (unless I am missing something) to weather, why are they omitting the cash?

          5. Better yet… From RyanAir

            What I am entitled to under EU Regulation 261? (Passenger Rights)
            If your flight is cancelled or delayed more than 3 hours, EU Regulation 261 (Passenger Rights) provides the following options to customers:
            (a) Full Refund – we will provide a full refund of the unused flights in your booking. (If you chose to make alternative transport arrangements i.e. car hire, trains, ferries etc. these are not covered under EU261 and therefore expense claims should be directed to your travel insurance company.
            (b) *re-routing, on the next available flight to your final destination, or
            (c) re-routing, on a future flight, to your final destination at a later date at your convenience.
            *If, you select option (b) – EU261 Regulation requires us to provide:
            (i) meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to the waiting time;
            (ii) two telephone calls, fax messages or e-mails;
            (iii) reasonable hotel accommodation where a stay of one or more nights becomes necessary;
            (iv) reasonable transport between the airport and place of accommodation (hotel or other).
            Please click here for more information on EU Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004.
            Customers who wish to submit a travel/transport/refreshments expense claim following a flight cancellation or delay
            Click here to access our online claim form


      2. Obviously these kinds of events are unavoidable and no one’s fault.

        The question is who manages the risk and how.

        One school of thought is that the entire burden should fall on each individual passenger. Just buy travel insurance (a complex product which may or may not pay out, and which is typically bundled with many coverage features, some of which you may not want).

        Another school of thought is that some of this risk should be built into the cost of travel. Every carrier insures against the same risks and passes on the average costs. Passengers who are lucky to have a problem-free itinerary will pay slightly higher fares (but still spend far less than they would overall if they bought travel insurance). Passengers who are unlucky and experience major problems get compensated for some of their trouble without having to deal with insurance companies.

        1. I concur. The justification would be that it would be more efficient to shift the burden to the airline as it has better knowledge and more effective purchasing power with regards to insurance.

    2. I do not believe that an airline, or any company for that matter, owes
      me compensation for a problem caused by an act of god/force
      majeure–something that is totally out of the company’s control.

      That’s where Americans and Europeans differ. The Europeans believe that airlines have a duty to care for their passengers (even if the weather is bad). We don’t. It’s ok for us to be treated like garbage. 🙂

  5. Swiss Air denied our claim under EU261 when we were delayed over 5 hours due to mechanical reasons. They said that the cause was unexpected and not under their control, therefore not covered. We tried and gave up.

    1. Just curious, is Swiss Air subject to EU 261 when flying in and out of Switzerland (they’re not an EU country?) Of course, if it was transit to or from a member state that’s a different issue.

      1. I was told I could file, so I did. Swiss Air never mentioned anything in their letter that the departing location didn’t apply, just that the circumstance didn’t apply.

      2. The European Passenger Rights apply to all air carrier flights within and from the EC region.
        For flights to the EC region it only applies to EC member state based air carriers.
        EEA members Iceland, Norway, Switzerland follow the EC Regulation

    2. I thought mechanical delays was considered something within their control and therefore you were still eligible. I know I tried this with Lufthansa and mine was denied because it was weather related, which is truly out of their control.

      1. I tried, with filing the claim, then emailed back and forth and just gave up. I could fight it, but I have to deal with it in Europe, so they won and we had a very, very, very long day of travel.

        1. Not sure how long ago this was but mechanical delays are not exclusions. They’re deemed as preventable and eligible for compensation. Here’s a pretty good article on the subject.

          and here is the complaint form where you can file a formal complaint with the EU governing body. They put pressure on airlines to follow the rules.

          1. I thank you for your post, but I have done all I can do without filing a lawsuit and that would cost me more than what I would get back. EU126 isn’t as good as it reads on paper!

          2. If you file in Europe, its a loser pays system so as long as you win, it costs you nothing.

          3. In the European legal system, the losing party to a lawsuit is responsible for all the legal bills of of both parties. So, as long as you win the suit, you’re out nothing because the airline has to pay your legal bill/fees.

          4. Dutchess, I think I love you. 🙂 My flight three weeks ago from Glasgow to Philadelphia was delayed 3 hours 20 minutes. They boarded us, then realized there was a mechanical issue and we never deplaned. I didn’t see that in the article but I would think it is the same as never being able to get on the flight (maybe worse since we were stuck). While I was waiting I Googled EU 261, and the article I read made it sound like I was only due compensation if the flight was delayed over 4 hours, so I was all oh well. According to the article and the site it links to that measures the flight in km, I might possibly be due £600! Worth a shot anyway, all they can say is no. But I found nothing in the article that would disqualify my claim. I will let y’all know if this works.

          5. That is what I thought regarding our flight, too, but LX denied our claim. If you file, let us know the outcome. We would have a few thousand dollars coming back if LX paid up!

          6. It was not delayed by 4 or more hours.
            The distance is GLA-PHL 5311 KILOMETERS or above 3,500 km.
            And the compensation is based on Euros not GBP.

  6. I voted yes. I am curious however if the OP was bumped, or if they volunteered, IME many people who think they were bumped actually volunteered? Airlines will do whatever they can to get people to volunteer before they have to bump someone. I am glad the OP got what they were due, but sad it took so much work to get it.

  7. Alitalia’s Conditions of Carriage expressly reference EU261 as a regulating law. The CoC is filed with the DOT so that makes it binding in the US. I’m not sure how it works in Canada, but suspect it is similar. Couldn’t the OP sue Alitalia in small claims court in Canada for breach of contract? Don’t bother with going to the EU court, get a ruling on this side of the pond. After you get the ruling from the judge you can go to the local airport and collect.
    Or is there something I’m missing here?

      1. I’m not sure if you remember, we had an article here about the Little Rock, Arkansas lawyer who I believe filed the case.

  8. How can a person who knows about Chris and knows enough to contact him for help NOT know to avoid Alitalia in the first place?

    1. I know enough to contact Chris and I don’t know anything about Alitalia. It’s never been on my radar enough to care about it.

  9. To understand the proposed revision to EC Regulation 261/2004, please read this website.
    It is quiet enlightening.

    europa (dot) eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-203_en.htm

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