We’ve heard recently that Britons are shunning European breaks amidst Brexit uncertainty over holiday costs and insurance entitlement, but there hasn’t been much attention cast on Americans passenger rights when visiting the EU.
With roughly half of all passengers travelling from the US to the UK continuing onwards to another EU country, it’s important to get some clarity. With popular events like Wimbledon and Grand Prix races coming up, answers can’t come a moment too soon in these strange Brexit times.
1. What is the EU-US “Open Skies Agreement”?
In April 2007, the EU and the US signed an “Open Skies Agreement” dictating that any EU airline and any US airline is free to fly from any point within the EU, and vice versa. It was a hugely positive step forwards in the world of aviation, uniting the world’s two largest aviation markets for business and pleasure.
2. Will Brexit affect the Open Skies Agreement?
In the wake of Brexit, the UK will leave this comfortable arrangement, and instead has agreed with America a new “open skies” deal, which will come into force after Brexit. UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was keen to reassure Brits that this is nothing to worry about:“This new arrangement and those concluded with eight other countries around the world are proof that the UK will continue to be a major player on the world stage after we leave the UK.”
Due to this, join business agreements such as the one between American Airlines and British Airways, are safe. In fact, if it wasn’t for this newly-signed pact,
Britain and the US would be stuck with a document permitting only certain airlines flying to British and American soil – and even then, only to London airports!
However, Andrew Charlton, Managing Director of Aviation Advocacy, a Swiss consulting firm specializing in aviation politics, said the agreement could be precarious:“If the replacement UK-US agreement goes forward, in the short term things should be ok. But if something goes wrong between now and Brexit, there will be a really huge problem, and British and American carriers will be subject to serious restrictions.”
In summary: as things run relatively smoothly in Brexit negotiations, the rights of both UK and US passengers flying across the Atlantic will be maintained.
3. Are American flight passengers travelling to and from the EU protected by EU Regulation 261/2004?
This may come as a surprise, but many American passengers travelling to and from EU countries are actually covered by EU Regulation 261/2004, which is designed to protect passengers in the event of flight delays or cancellations when travelling to or from the EU on an EU airline. If a flight delay or cancellation is claimable, each passenger could be entitled to $630, depending on the length of delay and distance travelled.
Airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa are amongst the popular EU airlines taking off from the States. As long as the reason for the delay or cancellation wasn’t classed as “extraordinary” such as a hidden manufacturing defect,passengers should be covered.
However, that isn’t to say that if an airline cites the reason for a delay or cancellation to be extraordinary is necessarily correct – weather conditions that are not considered to be “freakish” or “wholly exceptional” are covered by the Regulation.
Airlines for America say that roughly 20 million passengers and over 900,000 tonnes of cargo fly between the US and the UK every year; roughly one third of all annual flights between America and Europe. So, it’s important to bear EU Regulation 261/2004 in mind.
4. What is claimable and what isn’t?
See our handy table for instances that are claimable and those that unfortunately aren’t covered by the EU Regulation.
|Departing From||Arriving To||Can I Claim?|
|Airport inside EU||Airport inside EU||Yes (Claimable for any airline)|
|Airport inside EU||Airport outside EU||Yes (Claimable for any airline)|
|Airport outside EU||Airport inside EU||Yes (If on an EU based airline)|
|Airport outside EU||Airport outside EU||No|
5. What is “care and assistance” from the airlines and how can US passengers benefit from it?
Throughout a delay or cancellation, if you’ve had to spend extra money on things such as food and drink, taxi fares or hotel accommodation, it should be possible to be reimbursed as part of your claim for EU 261 compensation.
As part of the “care and assistance”, airlines should cover these costs during the delay, but often passengers have to use their own money to buy food and drink or order taxis.
Care and assistance starts after delays of 2 hours (for flights under 1500km), 3 hours (for flights between 1500km and 3500km) and 4 hours for flights over 3500km. You are entitled to: food and drink in reasonable relation to waiting time, free hotel accommodation when a stay of one night or more is necessary, free transport between the airport and hotel and two free telephone calls, emails, telex or fax message.
Coby Benson, Flight Delay Compensation Solicitor at Bott and Co says, “It’s important that people know their rights are unaffected by Brexit if they are affected by a delayed or cancelled flight that is scheduled to depart or arrive into the UK.
“There is a lot of confusion amongst passengers about what will happen with their flights after Brexit. Although it remains to be seen whether a deal will be struck with the EU or whether Britain will exit with no deal, going off the information released by the government, passenger rights will remain the same.”
6. Which countries in the EU do American passengers visit the most?
It certainly seems that Americans are just as curious about European delights like we’re endlessly fascinated by The Big Apple!
In 2018, there were 59,905 flights from America to Great Britain. Next in line in Europe’s popularity stakes according to America was Germany, which had 23,546 flights from the US last year. Other favourites were France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy and Spain.
So, while linking the effects of Brexit and EU Regulation 261/2004 to the rights of American passengers may seem tenuous, it’s clearly quite significant – happy transatlantic flying!