23 April 2010
According to the European Commission, airlines must take care of customers who have been left stranded waiting for a return flight. However, for customers who have arranged their own return trips, the companies need only reimburse the price of the unused flight ticket. The Consumer Agency has been in contact with Finnair on the matter, as the company has been unwilling to fulfil its legally appointed duty.
Upon the delay or cancellation of flights, airlines must notify their customers of the fact that they can either be reimbursed for their unused ticket or they can wait for a new flight. By virtue of the applicable EU regulation, the companies must take care of the customers who choose to wait for a new flight or a reroute. The company must provide the passengers with free meals and refreshments in a reasonable proportion to the waiting time. The company must also arrange hotel accommodation if it becomes necessary to spend one or more excess nights waiting for a flight. Furthermore, the company must provide transportation between the airport and the hotel as well as the opportunity for two phone calls or e-mail messages.
Some airlines have adhered to this regulation during the flight ban, some have not. Finnair, for example, has publicly announced that it will not follow the EU regulation nor compensate the expenses incurred by customers who have been forced to wait for a return flight.
The view of the European Commission is that, regardless of the extraordinary circumstances, airlines must take care of customers who have been left waiting for a return flight. The Commission has also stressed to the Finnish supervisory authorities – the Consumer Agency, the Consumer Disputes Board and the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi – that adherence to the regulation must be supervised and the regulation must be applied as normal in order for consumers' rights to be realised in their full extent.
The Consumer Agency is engaged in negotiations with Finnair and will communicate the results of the negotiations as progress is made. The Consumer Agency has forbidden Finnair from using limitation of liability forms by the signing of which customers accept responsibility for all possible costs incurred. By signing such a form, customers also release the airline from all other liabilities except compensation for the price of the unused ticket. Such forms contradict with the passengers' rights defined in the EU regulation in question. Therefore, they are invalid.
Finnair has since abandoned its limitation of liability forms. The company has also promised to arrange accommodation for those passengers who are currently waiting for their flight and for those who arrive in Helsinki but cannot get a connection flight on the same day.
Information for consumers whose flight or trip has been cancelled
Your rights as a consumer depend on whether you have acquired only a flight or whether the flight was part of a package holiday.
If you have booked the flight yourself , you have two options. You can either be reimbursed for the unused ticket, or you can reschedule the flight for a later time if places are available.
In either case, it is advisable to contact the airline or the travel agency that sold the flight ticket. The webpages of airlines provide more detailed instructions on the deadlines of flight cancellations, reimbursement procedures and rescheduling your flight.
The alternatives are the same also when you are stuck abroad. If you arrange your return trip yourself, you do not need to cancel the flight. You can seek compensation for the ticket from the airline or the travel agency that sold the ticket after you have returned home.
Bear in mind that if you accept to receive a refund for the ticket at the travel destination, the airline's duty to take care as described in the applicable EU regulation is terminated. After this, the airline will not be obligated to provide free meals and refreshments or arrange accommodation.
Business passengers can request further information from Trafi ( www.trafi.fi ).
If the cancelled flight is part of a package holiday , the organiser must immediately notify their customers of changes in travel schedules and programmes. The organiser must aid their customers and, where possible, seek to limit the damages and inconvenience caused to them.
You are entitled to cancel your trip if the beginning or the end of your trip changes in excess of 30 hours. Upon such occurrence, the travel organiser must return all payments you have made without delay. Contact the travel organiser if you have questions regarding cancellations.
The Consumer Agency will hold negotiations with the Association of Finnish Travel Agents (AFTA) with regard to problem situations regarding package holidays.