Passengers are not low cost
There is no such thing as ‘low cost’ rights or ‘low cost’ airline passengers. Everyone who travels by air is covered by the same EU regulations and all airlines operating at Aena’s airports in Spain, including Malaga, have to comply with them. These regulations protect passengers if their outbound or inward flight is delayed or cancelled, or if they are not permitted to board the aircraft. It is important for travellers to know their rights in order to prevent abuse, and to know what to do if they find themselves in a situation such as the recent chaos caused by Vueling, which is still worrying many people who have booked a flight to go on holiday.
The ‘Facua’ consumers association points out that airlines don’t always make it easy for people to exercise their rights: “They often try to put people off by demanding extra documentation or by taking a long time to deal with a complaint,” says Dolores García, the president of the Malaga branch of the association.
The State Agency for Air Safety (AESA), part of the Ministry of Public Works, is the only agency of its type which can deal with these complaints. It urges passengers who are affected by delays or cancellations during the busy summer months to make an official complaint and demand their rights, either directly to the airline or to AESA.
If agreement cannot be reached between the passenger and the airline, AESA will issue a report to which the airline is obliged to respond and the response is normally favourable, it says. If not, dissatisfied passengers can take the matter to court, and if they win their case they should be entitled to compensation.
In the first five months of this year, AESA received 5,670 complaints, compared with 3,888 in Spain as a whole from 1 January to 31 May last year. This is an increase of 45 per cent, and the figure does not include the recent problems caused by Vueling. “The increase in air traffic and the fact that more passengers are aware of their rights have played a part in the increase,” say sources at AESA.
Even so, the percentage of complaints is still very low. Bear in mind that in Malaga alone, eight flight cancellations by Vueling over the first weekend of July affected 1,369 passengers, according to the airline’s own figures. Vueling is the third most important company in terms of passenger movements at Malaga airport, and in peak season (March to October) it offers 1,489,164 seats on its 28 routes. Five of its planes are based at Malaga.
At present, travel agencies say they are being contacted by several clients a day who have booked a flight with Vueling and are due to leave soon or within the next two months. These clients want to cancel their tickets, because they are worried that their flights will be cancelled or delays will complicate their travel plans. They are unable to do so. The response from the airline is always the same: “I’m sorry but it isn’t possible to cancel free of charge. A refund is possible if a flight is cancelled or delayed more than three hours, but we can’t issue refunds before a flight is due to leave. We are working on resolving the situation as soon as possible.”
It is important to stress that all travellers are protected by the same regulations, whether they are travelling with a low-cost or conventional airline, especially as in Malaga last year the four busiest low-cost airlines - Ryanair, Easyjet, Vueling and Norwegian - moved more than half of all passengers at the airport, which was used by 14.4 million travellers last year. The regulations are very precise; people just need to know when they should complain, what they can ask for, how to do it, and where to apply.
Sources at AESA explain that if someone is denied boarding, or if there is a delay of more than two hours or a cancellation, the passenger should fill in a complaints form. The companies have these at their information desks and ticket offices, or they can be found on the airline’s website. There is also a form on the AESA website. When the form has been filled in, it should then be sent to the airline’s Customer Service Department.
In order to make a complaint, it is essential to keep the airline ticket, luggage sticker and any other type of document which may be relevant. “People need to be clear about what they are claiming. The form should be concise and legible, and must include accurate information about the date and time, the place and the reason for the complaint as well as the person’s personal details and flight information,” says AESA. It is also advisable to keep receipts for expenses incurred as a result of the delays, flight cancellations or loss of baggage.
When somebody is denied boarding on a flight, for example because of overbooking, the company is supposed to ask for volunteers, i.e. people who are willing to change their flight, and agree compensation with them. However, if there are not enough volunteers and a passenger is denied boarding against their will, their rights range from being given printed information about the conditions and the compensation to which they are entitled, to all the assistance they need: sufficient food and drink, two telephone calls or email facilities and, if necessary, accommodation for one night or longer and transport to and from the hotel and the airport. By law, they also have the right to a refund or alternative transport, and the passenger can choose between three options which the airline should offer: a refund on their ticket within seven days, the fastest alternative form of transport to their destination, or travel at a later date which is convenient for the passenger. The traveller may also be eligible for compensation which ranges from 250 euros if the distance is less than 1,500 kilometres, to 600 euros if it is more than 3,500 kilometres. The amount of compensation can be reduced by half if the airline offers alternative transport and gets the passenger to their destination on time.
If the airline cancels the flight, passengers should ask for information and remember that they have the right to be given assistance, a refund or alternative transport in the same way as someone who is refused boarding, unless they were informed about the cancellation 14 days before the flight was due to leave or if the airline can prove that the cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, such as political instability, weather conditions which make flying impossible, unexpected safety issues or strike action which affects the airline which is running the flight.
If a flight is delayed by more than two hours, passengers are also entitled to assistance. If the delay is five hours or more and the passenger decides not to travel, they are entitled to a complete refund on their ticket within seven days at the same price they paid for it, corresponding to the part of the journey which they have not been able to make. The refund can be in cash, by bank transfer, cheque or, if the client agrees, in the form of travel vouchers or other services. This also applies to compensation if a flight is cancelled, or if it is delayed three hours or more in arriving at the destination, unless the airline can show that the cause was due to extraordinary circumstances. The amount of compensation depends on the distance to be travelled, and the length of the delay.source surinenglish