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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Trip Finale Part 2 - EC261 Flight Cancellation Compensation and other nonsense

The process and information to attempt a claim under EC261 is not easy; in fact, the agents on the ground working with us on the cancellation didn't even have copies of the guidelines onhand when I finally got to the counter.  I asked the agent for a copy of the rights and rules - she seemed surprised at first, and then noted that she would have to check on it.  After a five minute discussion and search, she found the pamphlet which outlines the terms of the delay/cancellation rights for EU related flights (of which Switzerland is a participant).  This particular flight applies since the cancellation occurred on Swiss soil before departing for the U.S.

This article provides a good summary of the rules.  Of note: If your flight has been cancelled or delayed you have the right to compensation under European law.  Under EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to up to €600...

A few days after I returned home, I proceeded to contact United via email.  I detailed my flight information, PNR, dates, times, and the fact this was cancelled due to operations.  Part of my letter:

As such, I am seeking compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004 for this cancelled flight. My scheduled flight length was 6350 kilometers, therefore I am seeking 600 per delayed passenger in my party.  The total compensation sought is 600. 

**In this case, it is critical that the flight was cancelled due to operations and no other reason (weather, etc).  There was no bad weather in Zurich, and the plane was on the ground ready to depart before being cancelled.  The stated reason at the time we were onboard was crew rest - this could have easily been avoided if the flight officers had arrived at the airport later based on the flight information.  Not a tenable reason to avoid the cancel and compensation. **

The initial reply from customer service was an attempt to explain the situation as a weather delay:
Due to the late arrival of the aircraft into Zurich for inclement weather conditions, the crew ran out of the FAA allowable crew duty hours and was required to complete a mandatory rest period.  As a replacement crew was not available on such a short notice, your flight was canceled.  Thank you for understanding the safety of our passengers and crew is our first priority.

Nope, not correct. My reply detailed the correct information:

Unfortunately the information you note below does not match what happened in this case.   
I have attached a screenshot showing the reported issue to be operations - weather was never a stated reason for this delay.  In fact, United had to know about the issue enough in advance, given this notification shared with passengers, that having the crew report at the original time was their choice and forced the timeout you mention that could have easily been avoided. 

The next reply from United was confirmed:
We appreciate your patience while we reviewed the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of your flight UA135 from Zurich to Newark on August 18, 2018. United Airlines has determined that, in this case, monetary compensation under European Union Regulation EC261/2004 is applicable.  Monetary compensation will be awarded only to customers who were holding a confirmed reservation, a fare paid ticket, and were checked in and available to board the aircraft in accordance with United’s Contract of Carriage. 

As alternative options to your claim for compensation under European Union EC261/2004 regulation, we would like to offer you a choice of a $900 (USD) United Travel Certificate* (redeemable and transferable toward the purchase of any United or United Express operated flight) or 27,500 United MileagePlus® miles.

However, if you still wish to pursue cash compensation under EU regulation in the amount of 600, please provide a valid address where you would like for us to send it.  You will receive your compensation in the form of a USD check in your local currency.  Processing of your payment may take up to 6 weeks. 


The cash compensation in this case is the smart way to go based on value toward the ticket already purchased - I did not hesitate to send my address and about 5 weeks after my reply, a check from United arrived in my mailbox!

I'm sharing this story to note the importance of documenting your cancellation/delay experience along with the persistence needed to affirm what you may be entitled to from the airlines when traveling.  I'm not sure why United tried to make it a weather issue, but it was obviously not.

Thinking back, I wonder how many other passengers submitted claims ... and how many were successful.

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