Afraid of flying?

airplaneNo, we’re not talking about your aircraft suddenly falling out of the sky. Despite a number of high profile accidents recently, flying has never been safer. Recent figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show that there were only one hundred “significant” accidents in 2007 in which 692 people died (it’s estimated that 2.2 billion travelled by air in that year); according to another IATA calculation, air travel is five times safer now than thirty years ago. As to ground accidents, Nice, as Kathie Hallett reminds us, has not had a serious event for decades. Of course, some airlines are safer than others but the dodgy carriers don’t fly here. A list of companies banned from EU airspace can be found at www.dgac.fr and these are best avoided wherever you are. More information in French on airline safety records can be found at www.securvol.fr and, in English, at www.airfleets.net.

What you might justifiably be afraid of are events of a different kind: you show up at check-in to learn that your flight has been delayed, cancelled or the airline has gone bust. These things are happening with growing frequency. What can you do about it? The EU passenger rights legislation is there to help you. It’s complicated and vulnerable to conflicting interpretations but these are the main points:

• If you’re flying from an EU airport or with a carrier based in the EU and you’ve checked in on time, a delay beyond five hours entitles you to compensation, ranging from €250 to €600 depending on the length of your flight. At some point most carriers will offer food and drink; this is obligatory after five hours’ delay as is the provision of hotel accommodation (with transfers) if overnighting is unavoidable.

• If your flight is cancelled with no alternative offered within a reasonable time you have the right either to a full refund within seven days plus transport back to your point of departure, or you can be offered rerouting within a reasonable time. Again if a longish wait is involved you can demand food, drink, a hotel room plus free (but limited) use of a telephone, fax or e-mail facility. As readers have found – see “Mayday” in our last issue (and on our website) – cash strapped airlines will do their best to avoid paying compensation or providing costly services to stranded passengers. They are quick to refer to the EU’s acceptance of “exceptional circumstances” as letting them off the hook, often in very dubious cases. If this happens, it’s worth explaining, calmly at first, that you are aware of the EU legislation. If you get little sympathy bang the counter and if that fails write to us as Cathy Dariel and Christine Sini did.

• And what if you show up at check-in and your carrier has gone belly up, a not infrequent event? Low-cost airlines have a disquieting mortality rate. The luckiest victims are those who’ve paid with a credit card – they get their money back; in some cases they may even have their return home paid. If you used a debit card that’s usually not the case (though it can be with Visa’s “chargeback” system); if you’ve bought from a travel agent chances are you’ll lose your money (not always, though).

The worst case is if you’ve paid the airline direct and you end up as a hopeless unsecured creditor. As far as this column can discover insurance against carrier collapse is not easily available directly to passengers. One UK website worth looking at is www.protectyourholiday.com

From Riviera Reporter Issue 130: Dec 2008/Jan 2009

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