21st April 2010

Putting Time Limits on Rescheduled Flights Goes Against European Regulation, Says Consumer Counc

The Consumer Council has said airlines should not impose time limits on how soon passengers must travel once flights resume. It has called on airlines to be flexible and rebook tickets in passengers’ interest rather than commercial interest.

Aodhan O’Donnell, Head of Transport at the Consumer Council said: “EU Regulation[1] states that passengers whose flights have been cancelled are entitled to a full refund.  However, if they still want to travel airlines must offer a choice between a flight at the earliest opportunity once the restrictions are removed, or a flight at a later date which is convenient for the passenger.

“Passengers are in a difficult position.  While some flights are starting to take off, it is still not clear when all flights will return to normal and that makes it hard to choose between a full refund of their ticket or rebooking for another date. One of the passengers who contacted the Consumer Council was trying to get away on holiday before the arrival of a new baby in the family and now needs to wait for a few months before travelling. She was worried that she may not be allowed by the airline to rebook for a few months’ time.

“We are calling on airlines to be flexible and make alternative arrangements which suit the passengers’ needs, in line with the existing EU regulation.  We also want to assure passengers who are flying later in the week that they will not be bumped off their flight to accommodate those who have been stranded since last Thursday.  It is the responsibility of the airline to get everyone to their destination, even if that means putting passengers on other another airline or flying them to another airport close to their final destination.  It could also mean putting passengers other modes of travel such as ferries.  We urge the airlines to be as flexible as possible to sort the backlog of people and get them to their destination.

“The Consumer Council is clear that EU regulations put the onus on the airlines to communicate with passengers – and not the other way round – to agree new arrangements. Passengers are already distressed and frustrated and should not have to chase airlines for information or negotiate when they can travel, nor must they bear any additional expense[2].

“We are also aware that airlines usually fill any spare seats on flights beginning with those who have experienced the longest delay, but the Consumer Council’s view is that priority should be given to passengers requiring particular assistance, for example those needing medical treatment or medication, passengers with disabilities or mobility difficulties or those with young children,” said Aodhan.  

The Consumer Council has urged airlines to provide free-phone or low cost phone numbers for passengers who need to contact them and to ensure they have staff at airports to speak to answer customers’ questions. It has also said it is concerned that air passengers affected by the volcanic ash cloud are not being made aware of their rights and has urged them to keep all receipts for accommodation, meals and telephone calls.

“The Consumer Council will continue to speak regularly with the airports, airlines, ferry and coach companies and put information on our website , facebook (Consumer Council Northern Ireland) and twitter (@ConsumerCouncil). Consumers can also contact the Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022,” concluded Aodhan.

  1. Consumer Council media contact: Keelin Kelly, telephone, 028 9067 4807 or e-mail, [email protected]
  2. The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland’s consumers. The Council campaigns for high standards of service and protection and a fair deal for all. It also carries out research, gives advice and publishes reports and other publications. It deals with individual complaints about buses, trains, planes, ferries, natural gas, electricity, coal and water.

For more information, visit our website at

[1]Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishes common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights.  Whilst the European Commission creates the legislation, the national enforcement bodies (NEB) of member states are responsible for enforcing the Regulation. The UK NEB is the Civil Aviation Authority, the ROI NEB is the Irish Aviation Authority.

[2]Passengers who choose to travel at a later date should not be charged any additional fees regardless of when the new flight is scheduled to depart. However, those who choose a refund may pay more if they then decide to book a flight at a later date.