While it’s not really news, the Airfare Watchdog does a good job of spelling out travelers’ rights in the EU in a recent post. Of the legal mumbo-jumbo, the part that you should most certainly be aware of is:
If your flight is cancelled fewer than 7 days before departure and you’re offered an alternate flight that scheduled to depart more than one hour later than originally scheduled and that flight arrives more than two hours later than your original flight; or if your original flight’s departure is delayed for two or more hours [you are involuntarily bumped from a flight and do not arrive at your intended destination within two hours of your scheduled arrival], the following compensation rules apply, and we quote:
1. (a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1500 kilometres or less
(b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1500 and 3500 kilometres
That is to say, if your airline — and that means any airline, European-based or not — has at least a two-hour delay for cancels a flight originating within the EU for circumstances which are not beyond their control (such as weather, strikes or political unrest) or bumps you against your will and your flight was not free, you are entitled to serious monetary compensation. For most intra-european flights, this will mean 250 euros, for transatlantic 400 euros.
I recently spent time in the airport with a fellow traveler whose flight to London Luton was over 3 hours late. I am sure he did not demand 250 euros for his inconvenience. If you are stuck in this unenviable situation, do not hesitate to DEMAND YOUR COMPENSATION FROM THE AIRLINE, and educate your fellow passengers about their rights as well.
Update 5/5/08: The above texts were stricken as the information on the Airfare Watchdog site was found to be incorrect.
Passengers whose flights are “merely” delayed (over two hours in Europe, over three hours for flights over 1500 km) are entitled to meal coupons, phone calls and paid overnight stays as necessary. After five hours, you have the right to request a full refund of the unused portion of the ticket with a free return to your departure airport on a multi-leg journey. You may be eligible under national laws for compensation for costs incurred by your delay or cancellation (i.e. for hotels etc. on the other end of your trip); however, the EU law in question DOES NOT GRANT DELAYED TRAVELERS RIGHTS TO COMPENSATION.
You will find a clear explanation of your rights in various situations here, as well as practical advice on how to claim your due here. The text of the law with common questions answered can be found here.
Thanks to Jen for the correction.