Sally Lee and a friend book flights to London on British Airways. But the airline cancels their flight less than 24 hours before departure. Their story is a good lesson in how a specific European Union regulation can help flyers, and how to get your EU 261 claim approved.
My friend and I booked airfare to London on British Airways through CheapOair, and the flight was canceled 22 hours before departure. The new flight they offered us did not work as it would have us arrive after our five-day tour had already started, so we decided to cancel this trip and get a refund.
I’ve called them countless times, and they’ve directed me to various departments and put me on hold for over an hour, and I still can’t get anyone to help me. Can you? — Sally Lee, Oakland, Calif.
I’m sorry to hear about the runaround you’ve gotten from both your travel agency and the airline. You noted in your correspondence with us that you are a member of British Airways’ Blue Executive club. So much for honoring customer loyalty.
Despite the fact that the alternate flight the airline offered you would have made you miss the tour you’d already booked, not to mention that the flight was from a different airport an hour away, British Airways pulled out every trick in the book to deny you compensation.
So our advocate pulled out every trick in the book to help you get it.
In its initial response, the airline expressed great sympathy, then took the opportunity to brag about its safety record.
I know how stressful it can be when your flight was cancelled, mainly because you had to cancel your vacation plans. You certainly don’t expect this to happen when you fly with us and I’m sorry we let you and your travel companion down.
Safety is always our number one priority. The reason we have such an excellent safety record is because if there’s ever a fault, we don’t fly until it’s fixed. Your flight was cancelled because of a technical fault, which our engineers assessed and decided couldn’t be repaired in time. We always want to maintain as stable an operation as possible. This isn’t only because of the disruption to our customers, but also because of how difficult it is to recover from a cancelled flight.
British Airways then denied any responsibility
So we joined you in the fray. Since Brexit hasn’t happened yet, and Britain is still part of the European Union, our advocate suggested that you make a specific request for EU 261 compensation using British Airways’ online customer relations contact form. To help fight your battle, our advocacy website also provides links to executive contacts at British Airways and CheapOair.
What is EU 261
EU 261 is a regulation covering flights into and out of airports in the European Union. It provides for up to 600 euros in compensation in many circumstances.
Unfortunately, British Airways wasn’t going to make it easy to get your EU 261 claim approved. The airline’s position was that it did not owe you compensation.
“I’ve checked our records and can see that as you didn’t travel on the rebooked flight and had abandoned the journey,” wrote a representative, “under EU legislation, I’m afraid we’re not liable for a compensation payment in this situation.”
The EU regulations do give the airlines an exception for “extraordinary circumstances.” Unfortunately, the EU failed to define the term. This failure has created a situation where the airlines will use it to get out of paying the compensation. There have been some court decisions that have helped, so the use of this for maintenance/technical issues is normally limited.
So just what is it going to take to get your EU 261 claim approved?
Our advocate advised you that British Airways was misinterpreting EU 261 and suggested you file a complaint with the Civil Aviation Authority. The agency administers EU 261 in the UK. He also sent an inquiry to British Airways. The airline reviewed your case and finally agreed to issue you and your traveling companion compensation.
“I’ve reviewed your claim, and I’ve checked your flight again,” an airline representative wrote, “and I’m pleased to advise you’re entitled to compensation for the cancellation of your flight BA2278 on 18 November. The distance of your disrupted journey was over 3,500km and this has been calculated in accordance with EU legislation. This means you’re entitled to €600 in compensation. As there are two passengers included in your claim, the total amount of compensation you’re due is €1,200.00, which is equivalent to $1,494.”
The airline still isn’t responsible for the loss from your prepaid tours and hotel costs, which you’d also hoped to recover. They referred you to your travel insurance, which we hope you obtained. At least the EU 261 compensation was a few hundred dollars more than the cost of the original tickets.
I’m delighted that your fervent self-advocacy, with help from our advocates, finally paid off.