Know your rights when travelling abroad

Christmas is soon upon us and there’s no better time to sit back, drink some mulled wine and enjoy some time out with the family. And, for many of us, the end of year celebrations signal a well-deserved break from the island, even if it’s just for a few days. But, while you may be looking forward to those German yuletide markets, French snowy peaks and Austrian warm chalets – or, if you’re pushing the boat out, the tinselled festivities in New York City – many of us are unprepared for what may go wrong. From flight cancellations, or delays, to losing your luggage or weather disruptions, there are incidents which may mar your enjoyment and put a damper on your well-deserved break. So, what are your rights, as consumers, should there be a hitch which threatens to ruin your holiday?

You may have the right to receive between €250 and €600 in compensation

When you’ve been dreaming about a holiday for some time, the last thing you’ll want is for the flight to be cancelled, or even delayed.  Airlines do have obligations in these eventualities. Between €250 and €600, as a block-payment, must be given to customers (with the exact amount determined by the time and distance meant to be travelled). The airline should also provide alternative travel arrangements and any other assistance required and you should also be compensated for any costs incurred – such as food, drink, phone calls or accommodation (if delays are overnight), as a result of such cancellations or delays.

Compensation is due in cases when rerouting occurs

You are also entitled to financial compensation if your flight does not arrive at its destination, but has to return to its departure airport mid-trip, whilst leaving you unable to re-board that same flight. This also holds if an alternative later flight is offered by the airline. For example, if you’ve decided to take a short trip to London for some Christmas shopping, and two hours into the flight, it has to be rerouted back to Malta – and the same flight cannot re-depart – then you can claim compensation, even if the airline has suggested to reroute you to another flight, at a later time.

No compensation for delays and cancellations in extraordinary circumstances

The airline may, in some cases, argue that the delays or flight cancellation occurred due to circumstances out of its control. A few years ago, for instance, a volcano erupted in Iceland, causing massive flight disruptions – but, no one was entitled to compensation. This was because nothing and no one could control the ash cloud which burst into the atmosphere and nobody was at fault or could be held responsible. Weather-events, political turmoil, security risks, medical emergencies and even bird strikes, all fall into this same category. However, the airline cannot argue the same for technical issues, unless these were caused by terrorism, sabotage or hidden manufacturer defects.

Help! My luggage is lost!

Lost luggage may be a common issue and is intensely annoying as it can easily ruin your holiday entirely, especially if your bags are never found. If that happens, the airline must provide you with compensation. You may be entitled to up to €1,300 euros for the items you’ve lost and for the emotional distress this may have caused. However, be that as it may, money may never replace some clothes or objects to which you were attached, therefore it is advisable not to place any valuable items in your luggage.

The length of the delay determines compensation

The right to compensation depends on how long the flight was delayed and this is calculated on the time the flight is expected to open its doors at destination, and not – as is commonly assumed – on the departure time or the time the flight actually lands at its destination. If the flight arrives more than three hours late, you are entitled to compensation, even if this is due to reasons both within and out of the airline’s control. You should also be given refreshments and, if the delay is overnight, you should be provided accommodation. If the delay is between two and three hours, the airline is obliged to give you something to eat and drink.  Delays under two hours do not require any form of compensation by the airline.

Level of compensation is dependent on the time and distance of your flight

While the level of compensation, in the case of cancellations or delays, is dependent on the time and distance of your original flight, you must be careful of over-assuming the amounts owed in the case of a connecting flight. In these cases, the shortest distance between your first point of departure and the final destination is calculated, regardless of the actual distance flown. For example, if you were flying to Dubrovnik in Croatia from Malta, via Rome, and your first flight is cancelled or delayed, the level of compensation you would be entitled to would be based on the shortest distance between Malta and Dubrovnik (approximately 1,000km), rather than on the distance between Malta and Rome and then Rome and Dubrovnik (1,600km approximately).

Flight prices must be clear from the get-go

You’ve identified a destination and you’ve already got a running order of what you’d like to see and do during your trip abroad. The big question is: how much is this going to cost? European case law has laid out guidelines establishing that all prices related to flight purchases must be advertised at each stage of the purchase. This shows you how much each element of the booking – such as additional hand-luggage; checked-in bags; and seat reservations – is going to cost you. You will then know exactly what you are paying for and there are no hidden surprises.

Where to get further information on Passenger rights

If you are unsure of your rights when travelling in the EU, you may visit for further information.

The information provided does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All information and content is for general informational purposes only.   

Readers of this article should contact their lawyer to obtain advice and should refrain from acting on the basis of the information supplied without first seeking legal advice from a lawyer.