Denied boarding: what are the rights of your clients?

04-12-2017 
Denied boarding: what are the rights of your clients?

The violent removal of a United Airlines passenger from the plane as a result of overbooking created a real public furor over the past couple of days. It also caused Transport Canada to waken after a long period of slumber.

A spokesperson for Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, announced that strict rules in cases of forced removal due to oversold flights – ‘bumping’ in industry jargon – will be included in future legislation on the rights of passengers that’s been on the cards since last autumn.

Canada, it’s worth remembering, is the only Western country without clear rules in this area. As a reminder, PAX provides you here with details of the compensation that your customers can expect in cases of a cancelled flight, denied boarding, delays and loss of luggage.

Recap of the incident

First of all, let’s recap: on Sunday evening, a customer was forcibly ejected from United flight 3411, which was scheduled to take off from Chicago for Louisville, Kentucky, after having already been seated onboard. An announcement had already been made, asking four volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation, so that four of the company’s pilots could travel on the plane.

With the flight being full, the airline first offered compensation of $400, in addition to a paid night at a hotel, to tourists who were willing to give up their place and depart on a flight the following day.

When nobody responded to the call, the offer was raised to $800, without success. Four passengers were therefore chosen at random. Three of these disembarked without causing a scene, but the fourth refused, explaining that he was a doctor who had to treat patients the following day.

The company summoned two aviation officers, who came onboard and ordered the traveller to give up his seat. When he refused to obey, sure of his rights since his reservation had been confirmed, a third officer was called to provide reinforcement, and the three security personnel used force to remove the man from his seat and drag him towards the exit. The man came back on board, at which point he was once again ejected.

According to numerous eyewitnesses quoted by the American media, it was in a somewhat brutal fashion that the officers removed the man from the plane. These accounts were supported by photos and videos posted on social media, which inflamed public opinion. We later learned that one of the three officers has been suspended.

The president of United, Oscar Munoz, published a letter in which he apologized for the situation, but defended the actions of the flight attendants who, he said, had acted according to the correct procedure for this type of case. This led to another outcry on social media. The flight, meanwhile, finally took off, three hours late.

According to the DOT (Department of Transport), some 40,600 passengers out of a total of 659.7 million were forced to give up their seats in the United States last year by the 12 biggest American airline companies.

Figures for United indicate that 3,765 passengers were forced off their flights, with a total of 62,895 people denied boarding – although the majority of these voluntarily decided to give up their seats in exchange for compensation.

Unlike Canada, the rules are clear and embedded in legislation in the United States and the countries of the European Union.

The compensation

In the United States, the scale of monetary compensation is as follows:

Refused boarding due to overbooking

• 200 per cent of the ‘one-way’ fare up to a total of $675 if the passenger is re-routed to another flight with a delay of between one and two hours (between one and four hours for international flights).

• 400 per cent of the ‘one-way’ fare up to a total of $1,350 if the passenger is re-routed to another flight with a delay of more than two hours (four hours in the case of international flights).

Loss or delay of baggage

• Up to $3,500 per passenger for domestic flights

• Up to 1,131 SDR for international flights. The SDR is an international monetary unit (Special Drawing Rights) which currently corresponds to around US $1.35. So, in this case – US $1,675. Compensation is less than for domestic flights, because international flights are governed by the 1999 Montreal Convention.

In the European Union:

Refused boarding due to overbooking or delays:

• €250 for short flights (up to 1,500km)

• €400 for medium-haul flights (between 1,500km and 3,500km)

• €600 for flights lasting more than 3,500km

If the re-routing takes place within a reasonable time (two, three or four hours’ delay depending on the length of the flight), the compensation is reduced by half. In case of delay of more than three hours upon arrival, the same compensations apply. In the event of a cancelled flight, the passenger is entitled to reimbursement or re-routing, plus the compensation provided for above. The company must also cover the cost of accommodation, transport and meals in the event of:

Loss or delay of baggage

• Up to €1,220 in compensation

• For the details, you may consult the following site - http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm

In Canada:

In Canada, lawmakers refused to adopt clear legislation, giving in to pressure from airline industry lobbyists who raised questions of competition.

In 2009, the Department of Transport published ‘Air Passengers’ Rights in Canada’ which is in fact a ‘code of conduct’ to which airlines subscribe on a voluntary basis. Essentially, this stipulates that companies must provide ‘reasonable’ – but not pre-determined – damages to affected travellers. An arbitration service is available.

The amounts are set by the airlines themselves and published in the contract, the terms of which are generally reproduced at the bottom of the e-ticket and on each carrier’s website – but good luck finding them!

How to proceed

Aggrieved passengers must submit a complaint to the carrier. If they have not received a response within 30 days, or if they are not satisfied, they can file a complaint with the Transport Office, by completing an online form - https://services.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-complaints.

In such a case, the Office organizes a mediation. If the complainant is still not satisfied, he or she may ask the Board to decide, as part of a ‘formal decision-making process.’ Please refer to https://travel.gc.ca/air/air-passenger-rights?_ga=1.268070344.756343238.1491934785.

However, be advised! Passengers travelling on a Canadian airline departing Europe and the United States are protected by European or American legislation. Therefore, a passenger who is travelling from Paris to Montreal on a European or Canadian flight has the right to compensation determined by the European Union. Going in the other direction, only passengers on European airlines are protected.

For example: a traveller boarding in Montreal on an Air Canada or Air Transat flight towards Paris won’t be protected by European regulations if he or she arrives more than three hours late. If travelling by Air France or Corsair, though, he or she will have the right to agreed compensation of 600 euros.

On the other hand, when travelling from Paris – or another European city – towards Canada, European regulation applies the same on Air Canada, Transat and others as it does on European airlines.

According to American consumer associations, only two per cent of passengers who are victims of overbookings, delays, or lost or delayed baggage lodge complaints and are compensated in due form.

Of course, it’s not always easy to complain to the European Union. A dedicated site offers a fee-based complaint tracking service; in case of success, the complainant cedes 25 per cent of the compensation. If the complaint is rejected, no fees are charged. http://flightclaim.ca/

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