This is a guest post from a lifelong friend we visited last summer in Germany. Thanks to him for sharing his thoughts on this. -Robert
Our story has two parts, each of which caused us to suffer a 24 hour delay returning home on a British Airways flight from Phoenix to Munich. We are currently on an expat assignment in Southeast Germany and take a trip home once per year. We travel with 3 kids and there is a direct BA flight from Phoenix to London that is scheduled to leave PHX around 8pm. In theory it is a great option, you can spend the long flight sleeping and then take a short hop from London to Munich.
Our first year making this trip there was a 5 hour delay leaving Phoenix that caused us to miss our connecting flight in London. As we missed the last flight out for the day, BA put us up in a hotel near the airport and got us out of Heathrow early the next morning.
The second year taking this flight we were again delayed leaving Phoenix by ~3 hours. We were able to get on the last flight out of Heathrow for the day but were delayed on the tarmac. Toward the end of the LHR-MUC flight I could see the lights of Munich as we were on approach. Then the plane started to climb and turn away from the airport. We ended up landing in Hannover, just a short 7 hour drive from MUC. We were allowed to de-plane around 2:30 am and make our way to a hotel for the night. We were also informed by the crew that they had timed out and since Hannover is not a BA airport there was no replacement crew available to take over. That meant that we would not be leaving Hannover until 5pm that same day.
While the trips themselves were a bit of a nightmare scenario. I was able to pursue compensation from BA under the EU261 rules. This is a set of laws that require airlines to pay passengers compensation if a flight is delayed due to normal operating circumstances.
How EU261 Works
There are a number of regulations that apply. You don’t need to reside in the EU, but you must be flying in or out of the EU. If you are arriving in the EU you must be on an EU airline. Outbound flights apply to all airlines. Weather delays are rarely an acceptable reason for getting compensation. Airlines are also able to claim “extraordinary circumstances” and deny compensation in some scenarios.
Distances are determined by the overall ticketed itinerary. If just the last leg of the flight is delayed, compensation distance is still based on the origin of your journey.
Filing an EU261 Claim
If you are flying to/from the EU and it looks like your flight will be delayed it is time to begin taking notes. In both of our nightmare flights the records I kept were key to ultimately getting compensation. Be sure to ask why the flight is delayed. Ask more than once. I’ve been told different stories by different people, one of them is true and that is the one that may ultimately get you compensation. You might also have to get lucky to find out why the flight was actually delayed. As your flight arrives, ask once more about the cause of the delay and get any names or other critical information that you can.
Once you are home and settled again, you can begin the claim process. There are 2 ways to do this- on your own or by paying a company a percentage of any compensation you ultimately win.
If you file directly with BA it is critical to keep records of all correspondence. The online claim form does not send a copy of your claim to you, it sends what you write to BA and then you get an automated email acknowledgement back. This can make the claim process difficult. After a couple of generic responses I began composing messages in Word and then copy them into the online claim form.
The first time we were late I decided to file with a company who came back a short time later and said that the claim was denied. BA claimed that there was a labor action in London which is not considered to be within the airlines control and is not covered.
As luck would have it, I was talking with a colleague who happened to be on the plane coming into Phoenix that we were waiting for. He mentioned that the delay was due to a mechanical problem. As a result of this new information I filed a new claim directly with BA and was able, finally, to get compensation for the delay.
For our second claim (landing at the wrong airport), BA was much more stubborn in giving compensation. I truly felt our case was solid so I kept at it for ~4 months and finally got a satisfactory result.
The Phoenix-London flight was delayed by a baggage truck driving into the plane which BA claimed was an extraordinary circumstance. I was able to find a ruling from an EU court that found a similar event could be reasonably expected in normal airport operations and therefore was not an extraordinary circumstance by which they could deny a claim. The second leg of the trip should have also never taken off from London as the airport in Munich closes at 12:30 with no exceptions. The pilot swore up and down that the tower said they would be able to land but the shift changed during the flight and the rest is history. I should add that the BA flight crew was extremely apologetic and really did make us feel like they would do whatever they could to get us home as quickly as possible.
To get compensation this time I had to go through the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). Essentially, this is a mediator that deals with airline claims exclusively in the UK. You must wait 3 months from the initial claim before enlisting the services of the CEDR. If you “win” you pay nothing, if they find in favor if the airline it costs you 25 GBP. Once again, I felt my claim was solid and 25 GBP was a small price to risk. In the end, the claim was found in my favor and BA deposited the compensation into the bank account I had given them during the initial claim process.
Know your rights as a passenger when fly into or out of the EU. If there’s a delay, take notes, file a claim and be persistent.
It can be frustrating fighting for EU261 compensation. However, with multiple people on an itinerary, it can definitely be worth it.
In the end we got 5 x €600 for each of these two flights resulting in total compensation of around $6,777. And even after swearing we would never get on that flight again, we are booked on it once more in just a few weeks.