Unfortunately, the current health crisis is causing more and more flights to be cancelled or severely delayed.
In such cases, you as a passenger have certain rights. These rights were established by the European legislator in a Regulation no. 261/2004, the so-called ‘Passengers Regulation’. These rights apply to passengers who depart from the European Union as well as to passengers who arrive in the European Union.
The European Regulation grants certain rights to passengers in case of the following events:
– cancellation of a flight;
– delay of a flight;
– denied boarding of a flight.
A detailed overview of the rights as a passenger is covered in another of our articles.
One of the rights you can claim, is a monetary compensation.
The amount of the compensation depends on the flight distance:
The airline must pay the compensation in cash, by bank transfer or via bank cheque. A travel voucher or alternative service as compensation is only possible if the passenger agrees to this in writing. Please note: during the corona crisis, different rules were adopted concerning this subject.
Although this does not always happen, the airline is obliged to send a written notice to passengers setting out the rules for compensation and assistance, as well as the contact details of the national authority responsible for verifying compliance with the European Regulation. In Belgium, this national authority is the Directorate-General for Air Transport of the FPS Mobility and Transport.
In order to obtain compensation, you can contact the customer service department of the airline in question. If they do not reply within a reasonable period of six weeks or if you do not agree with the compensation they propose, you can contact the Passenger Rights Service of the FPS Mobility and Transport through an online complaint form.
If the compensation remains unpaid, you can enforce your rights in court. The question then arises within which timeframe your claim must be made. The European Regulation itself does not stipulate a time limit, so the national legal rules on bringing legal actions before court, the so-called ‘statute of limitations’, must be followed.
In Belgium, the statute of limitations vary widely depending on the type of legal action. In the context of this matter, the European Court of Justice has ruled that ‘the obligation to pay compensation to the passenger arises from the air transport contract itself.’ This matter is regulated by book X of the Code of Economic Law in our country.
Art. X.49 par. 3 provides that ‘legal claims arising from the contract of passenger transportation, except those arising from a criminal act, have to be brought before court within one year’.
The statute of limitation starts the day of the event that causes the legal claim. This means that passengers who wish to enforce their right to compensation, must bring their claim before the court within one year after the day of the cancellation or delay.
Given that some time will already have passed by trying to obtain compensation through the airline itself or through the FPS Mobility, the one-year statute of limitations requires fast action.
Failure to comply with the obligations imposed by the Passenger Regulation constitutes a criminal offence. This offence can give rise to a civil or criminal claim, which has a different, longer statute of limitations of 5 years. However, there is only a criminal offence if the airline 1) wrongfully refuses to pay the compensation and 2) if the passenger has submitted his request for compensation in time. This means that the mere fact that the airline doesn’t pay the compensation, is not a criminal offense. Therefore, the passenger cannot simply wait until the airline doesn’t pay and then make a claim within the five-year statute of limitations.
It is clear that passengers whose flight was cancelled or delayed, must keep an eye on the one-year timeframe.
Don’t hesitate to contact our office to verify whether you can still submit your claim for compensation and to guide you through the procedure.