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Your rights on delayed or cancelled flights in France

If you're travelling to France and your flight is delayed or cancelled, or the airline loses your bag, you need to know your rights as a passenger.

Your rights on delayed or cancelled flights in France
The tarmac of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

The good news is many travellers in France are covered by the strict regulations that the European Union has in place to protect consumers, including those buying plane tickets.

If you have faced issues with your flight, here are your rights and how to get compensation:

In the event your flight was delayed or cancelled

First things first: you must figure out if your is trip covered by the EU legislation, then figure out if the delay or cancellation is due to ‘extraordinary circumstances.’

EU air passenger rights apply to you if your flight is within the EU or Schengen zone, if it arrives in the EU/Schengen zone from outside the bloc and is operated by an EU-based airline, or if it departs from the EU/ Schengen zone.

Additionally, the EU rights apply only if you have not already received benefits (including compensation, re-routing, and assistance from the airline) for this journey under the law of a non-EU country.

If your flight is from the UK or US to France then it must be operated by an EU airline to be entitled to these rights.

Cancelled – In case of cancellation, you must check to see whether you have the right to choose between getting your money back, getting the next available flight, or changing the booking completely for a later date.

You are also entitled to assistance free of charge, including refreshments, food, accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day), transport, and communication (two telephone calls, for example). This is regardless of the reasons for cancellation.

If you were informed of the cancellation less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date, you also have a right to compensation, except if the cancellation was due to “extraordinary circumstances.”

Delayed – If your flight was delayed, your rights will depend on the duration of the delay and distance of the flight. 

If an airline expects that your flight will be delayed beyond the scheduled departure time, you are entitled to meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time. It starts at two hours for shorter flights (distance of 1,500 km or less), three hours or more for longer flights and a delay of four hours for all other flights. 

If you arrived at your final destination with a delay of more than three hours, you are entitled to compensation unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.

For a full explanation of the EU rights and how to make a claim, click HERE.

What are ‘extraordinary circumstances’?

It can get tricky to understand your rights when most of the things you are entitled to depend on whether or not the cancellations and delays were due to extraordinary circumstances.

According to the EU, examples of events defined as extraordinary circumstances are “air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions and security risks”.

However, most technical problems which come to light during maintenance are not considered extraordinary circumstances, and staff shortages would also usually not be classed as extraordinary circumstances.

Still, the airline needs to prove that the circumstance caused the delay or cancellation and that delays or cancellations couldn’t have been avoided “even if all reasonable measures had been taken”.

Strikes?

Strikes may be considered “extraordinary circumstances” so passengers won’t normally be eligible for compensation, although airlines must still offer a refund or exchange of the ticket.

The website flightright.com writes: “In this case (strikes) airlines are under no obligation to pay out compensation to customers. Strikes, whether they be carried out by the airport staff or the airline staff, fall under this category and as such passengers should not expect to have a valid claim.”

However there are some exceptions.

For example “if your flight does not fall within the immediate strike period, but is cancelled due to the impact of the strike, it is worth checking your entitlement to compensation,” explains flightright.com.

“For example: if all flights are taking off and landing on schedule again after the strike, but you are denied boarding, then there is a good chance that the airline will have given your seat to a passenger who was directly affected by the strike. This means that the airline would be denying you the right to board against your will, which could entitle you to compensation.”

Some airlines also offer free exchanges on tickets if you decide not to fly during a strike period, so check with your airline for their policy.

In the event your luggage was lost, damaged or delayed

If you have checked bags, here’s what to do;

Delayed – You should report delayed baggage (not present when you exit the plane, but delivered later free of charge), immediately to the airline that operated your last flight. You can ask the airline for a refund on any essential items you needed to buy due to the absence of your luggage. Keep the receipt that shows item details. 

Lost – If your baggage has not arrived at its destination within 21 days of the date it should have arrived, it is classed as lost. In this scenario, you are entitled to a refund of the bags and contents.

The French government recommends that those travelling by plane examine their airline ticket to see whether their flight falls under the “Montreal Convention” or the “Warsaw Convention.” If your ticket does not say so, you can ask the airline.

Based on the convention your flight falls under, you either have 14 days (Montreal) to send a written request to your airline with purchase invoices for lost goods, or 21 days, as per the Warsaw Convention.

If you do not have proof of loss, you may be offered compensation by weight.

Damaged – If your baggage has been damaged or destroyed during transport, you can ask the carrier to reimburse you for the cost of your bag and the damaged goods.

To do so, you must either write to the company with as much detail as possible about the damaged goods within 3 days (Warsaw convention) of receiving your bag for the Warsaw Convention or 7 days (Montreal convention).

Unless the damage was caused by an inherent defect in the baggage itself, the airline is considered liable. You have the right to compensation up to approximately €1,300.

Finally, if your airline refuses to compensate you or does not respond within at least two months, then you can get in touch with a Tourism and Travel Mediator via this online form

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STRIKES

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

The main union representing French air traffic controllers has cancelled calls for a strike from September 28th to 30th, after "reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry."

UPDATE: French air traffic controllers cancel strike action in September

SNCTA, the main union for air traffic controllers said this week that they had lifted their calls for a three-day strike at the end of September after coming to an agreement with France Ministry of Transport. 

In a statement on its website, the SNCTA said “In view of the concrete progress made on the demands, the SNCTA is lifting its [strike] notice for September 28th, 29th and 30th. The strong mobilisation of September 16th was necessary and instrumental for reaching this conciliation in a very constrained calendar. Thank you to all of you!” 

The French ministry of transport has not yet commented on the above agreement or lifting of the strike.

The International Air Transport Association tweeted their support for the SNCTA’s decision to cancel further industrial action, calling Friday’s strike “unnecessary.”

The association also urged the European Union to implement a “Single European Sky.” This reform, which was put forward almost 20 years ago, has not yet reached fruition. It intends to shift the current system of air traffic organisation away from national borders and toward a “coherent zone” in order to reduce emissions and save both time and money.

The strike on September 16th left over 1,000 flights in France grounded, as well as widespread delays and over 2,400 flight cancellations across Europe. 

The SNCTA mobilised for wage increases due to the rising cost of living, in addition to an acceleration of recruitment in order to anticipate a wave of retirements. After Friday’s action, the union had called for further strikes from September 28th to 30th before reaching an agreement with their supervisory ministry. 

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