What are your rights in Germany if a flight is delayed or cancelled?
With chaotic conditions at German airports this summer, as well as strike action, we look at you rights if your air travel plans are disrupted.
What happens if my flight in Germany is disrupted?
The good news is that the EU has strict regulations protecting consumers, including those buying plane tickets.
If you have faced issues with your flight in Germany, here are your rights and how to get compensation, according to EU legislation.
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.
People can make a claim if the flight is cancelled at short notice, overbooked or arrives at least three hours late at its destination. In these cases, each passenger booked on the flight can demand a lump-sum compensation payment of between €250 and €600, depending on the circumstances.
How much compensation is due?
Your rights and compensation will depend on the duration of the delay and the distance of the flight. The compensation will generally be €250 for short flights, €400 for longer flights and up to €600 for flights covering more than 3,500 kilometres.
If you take an alternative flight in the event of a cancellation, you do not have to pay for it again. If the alternative flight is offered immediately and arrives at the destination a maximum of two hours later (for short routes) or four hours later (for long routes), the airlines can reduce the compensation payments by 50 percent.
You may be entitled to receive compensation for a flight cancellation if it was cancelled at short notice.
If you have to pay additional costs as a result of a cancellation - for instance, for a hotel that you now can’t use - you can ask for compensation for this from the airline.
Airlines do not have to pay compensation at all if a flight cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances that "could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken". This is the case, for example, with unforeseeable natural events. But not in the case of circumstances for which the airline itself is responsible, such as a lack of staff on the plane or at check-in.
According to the EU, other examples of events defined as extraordinary circumstances are “air traffic management decisions, political instability, adverse weather conditions and security risks”.
Workers’ strikes can be considered extraordinary circumstances. But 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”.
In the current Lufthansa ground crew strike action, passengers are being booked onto another flight by the airline free of charge. If the alternative flight does not depart until the next day, customers are entitled to a voucher for an overnight hotel stay in certain cases.
If it is a domestic flight, Lufthansa is rebooking passengers on a connection with Deutsche Bahn. Travellers also have the option of booking their train ticket themselves, but they must make sure that the ticket price is not higher than that of the booked flight (or they pay the difference). Customers can also receive a refund for their ticket.
If the passenger misses a flight through their own fault, for example: turning up late to the airport, the airline does not have to pay.
What about support during delays?
If a departure is significantly delayed, airlines are obliged to support their passengers during the waiting time. Passengers are entitled to two free telephone calls and free meals and refreshments "in reasonable proportion to the waiting time".
If the delay necessitates an overnight stay, the airline must also pay for the costs of a hotel - as well as for transport there.
What happens if my luggage goes missing?
Unless the damage was caused by an inherent defect in the baggage itself, the airline is liable. You have the right to compensation up to approximately €1,400.
“If you want to file a claim for lost or damaged luggage, you should do it in writing to the airline within 7 days, or within 21 days of receiving your luggage if it was delayed. There is no standard EU-wide form.”, the EU site adds.
The baggage label on the boarding card is proof that baggage has been checked in. If there is a dispute about the value of suitcases or clothing, it is useful to have proof of purchase. Of course, it is unrealistic to have receipts for all items of clothing or equipment carried - but there may be proof of particularly expensive or newly purchased items.
- Why is flying in Germany so expensive and chaotic right now?
- ‘5,000 bags left every day’: German air passengers face luggage fiasco
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What happens if I miss my flight due to long queues?
Complaints about long security queues should be directed to the German federal police (Bundespolizei) rather than the airport or airline. However, if you want to complain about the check-in queues, you should contact the responsible airline.
What steps do I take to get compensation or complain?
Familiarise yourself with your rights and then talk to the airline or tour operator. Make sure you keep a record of all of your conversations.
If you are not satisfied with their response, you can contact your country’s European Consumer Centre for cross-border flights or a national consumer centre for domestic trips. If you think you’re liable for compensation from your airline, you can file an official EU airline complaint form.