He wants United Airlines to pay his EU 261 claim. But should it?

Will United Airlines pay his EU 261 claim?

Michael McDonald wants United Airlines to pay his EU 261 claim. Why? The airline canceled his United Airlines flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dulles International Airport and then rebooked him for the next day. Can we help?

Question:

United Airlines canceled my flight from Frankfurt to Dulles for mechanical reasons. When an airline cancels flights from airports in the EU, it has to compensate travelers for 600 euros when transatlantic flights are involved.

I wrote to United asking for this compensation but they only offered my wife a $200 credit on a future flight. Do I have any options in the U.S. to get United to comply with EU 261 or should I just take the $200 and call it quits? — Michael McDonald, Rockville, Md.

Answer:

Michael, I’m sorry to hear that United Airlines has not been more responsive to your compensation request under EU 261, the European airline consumer regulation.

United wants to offer your wife a $200 flight credit when the regulation says you and your wife should receive 600 euros each.

How does the EU 261 regulation apply to United Airlines?

We often see airlines ignore EU 261. The regulation names “extraordinary circumstances” as a reason airlines can avoid paying the compensation.

The problem is there is no specific definition of what constitutes such circumstances, although “political instability” and “meteorological conditions” are cited.

However, neither of those conditions were present in your case. However, neither of those conditions were present in your case. You can find detailed information concerning the EU 261 here.

Should United Airlines pay his EU 261 claim?

It appears United dropped the ball.

When you contacted our executive director, Michelle Couch-Friedman, you made a persuasive case for compensation under EU 261.

You noted the airline did not have any personnel manning the departure gate at Frankfurt, and you learned about the flight cancellation via text message to your wife’s cell phone.

There were no instructions on what to do next, and there were no United Airlines personnel in the departure terminal who could talk with you.

Under EU 261 regulations, United Airlines should have provided you (and other passengers) a “clearly legible” notice stating you might be eligible for compensation due to a flight cancellation and a written description of your rights.

Apparently, United Airlines failed to do so.

Second, you had to stand in line for four hours to rebook your flight.

Third, the rebooked flight, which connected in Munich, allowed for a one hour connection time, but it required a half hour for you to clear customs.

“This was a very high-stress connection,” you said. “To United’s credit, they did hold the plane for us, but we did not know they were doing that, so it was a real rush for us to make the flight.”

In the end, a satisfactory resolution

Friedman subsequently reached out to our executive contact at United Airlines on your behalf. Here’s a link to our executive contacts at United.

A few weeks later, you notified Friedman that United Airlines agreed to pay you and your wife $600 each for the canceled flight. (That’s not exactly the equivalent of 600 euros under current exchange rates, which would be $744.)

Still, it’s better than nothing. But it took far longer for United Airlines to compensate you, Michael, than it should have.

Once you had filed your compensation claim, United Airlines should have reimbursed you within seven days, according to EU 261. You initially filed a claim in January. But it wasn’t until mid-March that you finally received the compensation you were due.

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About the Author
Michael Hinkelman is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years experience. He has worked for daily newspapers in Atlanta and Philadelphia, most recently as a small-business columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, before retiring in 2016. In 1993, Hinkelman won a prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for an investigation into the finances of the Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, he was a lecturer in media relations at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. Read more of Michael's stories here.
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