Following the news that United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight, Consumer Spokesman Dan Dalton MEP looks at how passengers are protected in the UK under current EU passenger rights rules.
Could this happen in the UK and the EU?
The short answer is yes, the Captain has complete control over who remains on-board their aircraft, so officials are legally empowered to remove a passenger from a plane against their will. The long answer is that it is much less likely to happen in Europe.
European airport practices would mean that this situation would normally be resolved at the gate before anyone boarded the plane, EU compensation rules are also much more stringent making severe overbooking less appealing to airlines. However, overbooking is standard practice in the airline industry, where on average 5% of passengers do not show up for flights.
What are your rights in the UK & the EU?
Under EU passenger rights rules anyone denied boarding on a flight within Europe or on a European airline anywhere in the world has the right to compensation, the right to choose between reimbursement, re-routing or rebooking at a later stage and a right to expect “assistance”.
What does this mean in practice?
Within the EU or travelling on a European airline you can claim compensation ranging from €250 for short-haul flights (1500km or less) to €600 for long-haul flights (3500 km or more).
The two caveats are worth remembering, in the US there is a different sliding scale of compensation, but in some parts of the world there may not be any compensation whatsoever if you’re on a non-European airline outside the EU, so having good travel insurance is essential.
Reimbursement, re-routing or rebooking in the event of denied boarding or cancellation
The air carrier must offer you, on a one off basis (you may not be allowed to change your mind later), a choice between:
- The reimbursement of your ticket
- re-routing to your final destination at the earliest opportunity
- re-routing at a later date (subject to availability)
Assistance in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or delay at departure
Airlines should offer you and provide assistance free of charge while you wait. The assistance to be provided includes:
Refreshments, Food, Accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day), Transport to your accommodation and return to the airport, 2 telephone calls or emails
If assistance is not offered and you paid for your own meals and refreshments etc., the air carrier should reimburse you, provided the expenses were reasonable and appropriate (you will need receipts).
For further information on your rights in the UK and the EU please see the Your Europe air passenger rights webpage: