On 29 June 2018, the Denpasar International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, was closed for nearly 12 hours due to the eruption of Mount Agung. 318 flights were cancelled, leaving more than 26,000 passengers stranded at the airport.
Many passengers around the globe had their holiday plans disrupted as flights that were headed to Bali from other airports, including Changi Airport, were also cancelled. This left many passengers concerned about the bookings they had already made in Bali for their holiday, such as hotel reservations and boat trips.
Amidst the chaos, a flight passenger in New Zealand waited for hours to speak to her airline’s customer service staff. When she finally got through to the service staff, she was told that accommodation would not be provided to her by the airline in spite of the flight cancellation.
As flight cancellations and delays can have several ripple effects on your trip, flight passengers should be informed of the steps to take in the event of a flight cancellation or delay in order to adequately prepare themselves beforehand.
Can You Claim Compensation and How?
Airlines typically have a procedure for passengers to claim compensation in the event of a flight cancellation or delay. The terms of the compensation differ from airline to airline and may be found in the specific airline policy of your airline.
For example, at the time of writing, the low-cost carrier Scoot compensates passengers with a $50 travel voucher only if the delay is more than 3 hours long.
If you are flying to or from the European Union or the United States, there are laws governing air passenger rights in the event of flight cancellation or delay.
1. Flights to or from European Union
Under European Union law, Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 entitles flight passengers to compensation for flight cancellation provided that:
- The passenger was informed less than 14 days prior to the scheduled departure date; and
- The cancellation was not caused by extraordinary circumstances (explained below).
Flight passengers are entitled to assistance (e.g. Food/Refreshments), to reimbursement and a return flight, depending on the duration of the delay and the distance of the flight.
If you have arrived at your final destination 3 hours later than the scheduled time due to a delay, you are also entitled to compensation, unless it was caused by extraordinary circumstances.
2. Flights to or from the United States
Under the US Department of Transportation Final Rule on Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections II, airlines must develop a customer service plan dealing with issues such as flight cancellations and delays.
You may check the specific customer service plan of your airline with regard to your flight to or from the United States in order to find out if you are entitled to compensation for flight cancellations or delay.
For example, at the time of writing, Singapore Airlines’ customer service plan states that they would provide meals, accommodation, assistance in rebooking and transportation in the event of a flight cancellation or delay to the best of their ability.
Again, you will not be compensated if the flight cancellation or delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.
If you are not flying to or from the European Union or the United States, issues pertaining to flight cancellation or delay will typically be governed by the airline policy as there are no laws regulating compensation for flight delay or cancellation in Singapore.
If you fulfil the criteria set out in the terms of compensation, you may begin the procedure to seek compensation directly from the airline.
What are Extraordinary Circumstances? Will My Claims be Barred?
Some airline policies will bar certain compensation claims as set out in their airline policy. Most commonly, if the claim arises from extraordinary circumstances.
Extraordinary circumstances refer to factors beyond the airline’s control. It may include:
- Acts of god (Natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions or hurricanes); and
- Acts of war (Terrorism)
If this is stated in your airline policy, it is likely that any claims seeking compensation will not be allowed.
Notwithstanding, compensation may still be provided subject to the airline’s goodwill. For example, Singapore Airlines passengers who were affected by the Denpasar International Airport closure due to the volcanic eruption, were given the option to change their flight ticket to any other ASEAN destination at no fee.
Alternatively, if they chose to stay in Singapore for the night while waiting for the next available flight, the airline offered the passengers rooms at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for free.
Therefore, it is advisable to speak to your airline’s customer service staff directly in the event of a flight cancellation or delay.
What Should I Do If an Airline Refuses to Compensate Me Despite Being Entitled to it?
In the event that the airline refuses to pay compensation for which you are entitled to, you may seek assistance from claims management companies (which you may find abroad) or lawyers who specialise in air passenger rights.
In the event of a flight cancellation or delay, some airlines will provide you with meal vouchers for the additional time you have to spend in the airport. At times, even accommodation may provided by the airline. This is usually the case when the delay is of a sufficiently long duration.
Can I Claim Compensation from My Travel Insurance Agency?
Alternatively, if you have purchased travel insurance, you may claim compensation directly from the insurance agency if the situation falls under the specific policy wording.
For example, some insurance policies will only compensate you if your flight has been delayed for more than a minimum number of hours. This number will vary across different policies, as set out in the specific policy wording.
While the procedure to claim compensation will vary across different insurance agencies, you are typically required to produce supporting documents such as:
- Your initial flight itinerary;
- Your actual boarding pass; and
- A letter from the airline stating why the flight was delayed or cancelled.
Therefore, it will be helpful to keep a paper trail when you are travelling. You may verify the actual procedure pertaining to the insurance policy you have purchased from the policy wording.
What Happens to My Hotel Reservations Made for the Trip?
Unfortunately, a flight cancellation or delay will adversely affect the rest of your travel itinerary. Any accommodation arrangements or hotel reservations that you have made beforehand may need to be modified or cancelled due to your late arrival.
Cancellation policies vary across different accommodation providers. Do contact your travel agent or the accommodation provider directly pertaining to their cancellation policy.
For example, Airbnb hosts will have to specify whether they have a flexible or strict cancellation policy on the itinerary.
Strict policies usually require you to pay for your reservation in full even though you will not be staying that particular night. Other more flexible policies may require you to pay a cancellation fee, while some allow you to cancel at no cost. You may be required to present your receipts for this.
It is advisable to contact your accommodation provider as soon as you receive news of your flight cancellation or delay. This is because, some accommodation cancellation policies have different conditions depending on how early you make the cancellation.
You may also wish to check any travel insurance policies that you have purchased. Policies with extended coverage may include compensation for any hotel reservations that you cancel in the event of a flight cancellation or delay.
What Happens to My Checked-in Baggage?
In the event of a flight cancellation or delay, most airlines will usually place your baggage on the flight that you are rebooked on. If your airline’s process is not automatic, then you may be required to retrieve your luggage yourself and check it in again at the check-in counter.
Do check your specific airline policy pertaining to this.
If your checked-in baggage is delayed, you may also be entitled to claim compensation for this depending on the specific airline policy.
Otherwise, it may be possible to claim compensation from your travel insurance policy, provided that your policy covers delayed baggage.
What Should You Do Prior to Booking and Boarding Flights?
You may wish to purchase your travel insurance when booking your flight tickets. Most airlines will offer an add-on insurance option that provides basic coverage in relation to your flight. Otherwise, travel insurance may also be purchased separately from third-party insurance providers.
To be aware of the steps you need to take in the event of an unexpected flight cancellation or delay, it is best to check the airline policy in advance to be better prepared during the event.
This is so even if you have flown with the airline multiple times, as different regulations may apply depending on the flight destination. It is also recommended to keep a soft copy of the airline policy that you may refer to conveniently in times of doubt.
As mentioned above, it is important to keep the receipts and itineraries pertaining to any reservations you have made in order to claim compensation.