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After air strike comes reparation
If you do not travel due to an overbooked or cancelled flight you may get a refund under EU rules.


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Great Britain
Air Transportation

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Like tens of thousands of others, the Laurent family were en route to Hong Kong last week and found themselves stranded in the British capital.

British Airways (BA) flights were badly disrupted after some airline staff took unofficial industrial action. The strike was in response to a dispute between catering staff and the U.S. firm that provides onboard meals for British Airways. (Full Story)

The UK's largest carrier could not get passengers home quickly, but was obliged to accommodate them and thousands of others in a hotel, give them access to telephones and provide them with food.

It might not have felt like it, but passengers were reaping the rewards of a new set of European Union (EU) rules.

"The EU gives passengers the right to cancel a flight, a refund, or reroute -- that is something the passenger can decide under new regulations," Ingrid Gubbay from the UK-based consumer association, Which?, told CNN.

The European Union legislation, which was introduced in February, imposed mandatory levels of compensation and refunds for fliers faced with canceled or delayed flights.

In certain situations, passengers are even entitled to claim up to $740 for a long haul flight.

But airlines can avoid paying compensation, if there are so-called extraordinary circumstances.

These are circumstances beyond the airlines' control, such as when flights are stopped due to snow, terrible weather, technical problems, acts of terror and wildcat strikes.

"The gray area for British Airways passengers are these wildcat strikes and whether BA can get out of their obligations under that," says Gubbay.

British Airways is evoking the exemption, telling CNN that they are not liable under the European Union laws to pay out compensation.

But the airline is saying that it will compensate passengers on a case-by-case basis.

"What passengers cannot expect, in every case, is compensation if things go wrong, go drastically wrong, where airlines could not have done anything about it," Jeremy Shebson, a partner at law firm Barlow, Lyde and Gilbert.

In the case of strikes, terrorist attacks and bad weather, lawyers suggest passengers like the Laurents should rely on their travel or credit card insurance, instead of counting on the airlines to make up for missed vacations or business meetings.

According to the UK-based Air Transport Users Council, and chief executive Simon Evans, European airlines are obliged under the new legislation to provide passenger with details on their rights -- in paper form.

Other facts about the European Union legislation:

  • The regulation applies to those flying from an EU airport or from an airport outside the EU to an EU airport on an EU carrier.
  • The law relates to flights canceled less than seven days before departure, passengers are then entitled to a refund if they do not wish to travel.
  • The law applies to those passengers denied boarding due to cancellations or overbooking, or delays of more than two hours.
  • Fliers are entitled to refreshments and in some cases overnight accommodation.
  • A refund is also valid if a flight is canceled and the replacement flight is scheduled to take-off one hour before the original departure time or arrive more than two hours after the original flight.
  • Robyn Curnow and Nick Easen contributed to this report for CNN

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