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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.

A passenger waits at Frankfurt airport on Wednesday during a strike by Lufthansa ground staff.
A passenger waits at Frankfurt airport on Wednesday July 27th during a strike by Lufthansa ground staff. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

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.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights?

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”.

READ ALSO: What to know about Lufthansa ground staff strike at German airports

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.

READ ALSO:

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.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Horrible queues’: What Frankfurt airport is really like this summer

A recent survey placed two German airports among the worst in the world this summer for delayed flights. The Local readers told us Frankfurt airport is particularly bad.

'Horrible queues': What Frankfurt airport is really like this summer

It’s well known that flying can be a nightmare at the moment, whether there are delays, cancellations, long queues or lost luggage. 

According to a recent ranking by FlightAware, Germany’s largest airport in Frankfurt saw 45.4 percent of its flights delayed between May 26th and July 19th, while Munich airport had 40.4 percent of flights disrupted. 

We decided to ask The Local readers what their experience of flying to or from these airports has been this summer. 

Around 30 people answered our survey last week – and of those, just over 32 percent said their flight from one of these two German airports had been cancelled. Meanwhile, 60.7 percent of those surveyed said their flight was delayed. 

Missed connections

Frankfurt airport, which is airline giant Lufthansa’s main base, seemed to be the travel hub where people had experienced the most problems. 

The airline has struggled with staff shortages after cutting back its workforce during the pandemic travel restrictions. Around 6,000 flights have been cancelled from Frankfurt this summer. Lufthansa ground crew staff also recently held a strike over pay and conditions. 

Adding to the problem is that many people are off sick in Germany at the moment due to a high number of Covid infections.  

READ ALSO: Why is flying in Germany so expensive and chaotic right now?

Alison Townsend, 49, said: “No problems at Munich but major problems outwards at Frankfurt. Only a 30 minute delay but then hit the 45 minute non-EU passport queue and ridiculous distance between gates.

“I missed my connection so missed boarding my cruise in Athens and had a five-day catch-up to board it after with high hotel costs and expenses. Staffing levels were ok but lines for border control were too long.”

However, Townsend said both airports were “very good in terms of seating and shops plus food outlets”.

Craig, 68, who flew to and from Frankfurt, said: “It was chaos and clueless. No Lufthansa desks were open. And it was the third flight of my scheduled trip to be cancelled.”

Queues at Frankfurt airport in July.

Queues at Frankfurt airport in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Nicolas, 37, flew to Marseille from Frankfurt, and said there were no staff there to tell passengers about their cancelled flight. 

“You feel very lonely in the big airport,” he said. “No one knew the right answer. I travel a lot around the world and I never felt that before.”

Another reader called Anna, 33, said she was put off from flying with Lufthansa after having her travel plans wrecked during recent strike action. Her outbound flight was delayed by 2.5 hours “and I missed the connecting flight”.

“Due to the strike I was left all alone in Munich with a toddler,” she said.

Tom Boon said he experienced lots of problems when flying with Lufthansa from or to Frankfurt. He said his return Lufthansa flight from London was “almost an hour late due to the aircraft not leaving Frankfurt on time to come to collect us in London City”.

Long queues at immigration

Lots of respondents mentioned the issue of waiting in line when arriving at Frankfurt airport. 

Balakrishnan, 41, who flew to Frankfurt from Abu Dhabi in July, said there were problems getting through passport control: “We waited nearly two hours in a long queue to clear immigration.

“Though the queue was too much, only two counters with four immigration officers were opened for non-EU passport holders.”

Paul, 52, flew to Frankfurt Airport at the end of July. He said: “Horrible queues for passport control, two people were there at 7.30am and there were queues of at least 200 people, stretching out of sight down the corridor.”

Source: Statista

Will the problems continue?

At the weekend, Lufthansa board member Christina Foerster told newspapers in the Funke Media group that flight operations were now “stabilised”.

“The low point has passed,” she said. However, Foerster said there were still major issues with staff having to take sick leave. 

Last week it also emerged that hundreds of new temporary employees from abroad, likely to be stationed at Munich, Frankfurt and Nuremberg airports, are set to join teams on the ground later this month. 

READ ALSO: German airports to recruit hundreds of emergency staff ‘in August’

And some readers said it’s not all that bad – even with the current staff shortages. 

Rebecca, 70, flew to Frankfurt airport on July 28th. 

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She said: “Flight arrived early. There was no line at passport control. Baggage arrived on the belt within 30 minutes. Shuttle to Terminal 1 was punctual.”

Steven, 35, said: “Munich had no issues at all, the airport was practically empty around 3pm. No baggage delays, customs did take a few minutes longer than usual. No other problems at all.”

Meanwhile, one reader said his worst experience was actually flying from another German airport – Cologne/Bonn. 

Angad, 28, said: “Security lines that were kilometres long and more than a two hour delayed flight. Fast track security that we paid for did not exist. Horrible, horrible experience.”

Tips and advice

We also asked readers for their suggestions on travelling at the moment. Here’s a summary of what they said:

  • Put a tracking device like an AirTag in checked baggage or only bring hand luggage 
  • Arrive earlier than usual for your flight, and be mindful of leaving time for connecting flights 
  • Wear trainers or comfortable shoes for getting through big airports quickly 
  • Lower your expectations 

Nick, 56, said: “Remain calm, other airports in the world are also going through the same issues.”

Another reader, Fiona, 54, said: “Don’t travel unless you really need to.”

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out our survey. Although we can’t include all the responses, we do read all of them and really appreciate you taking the time to share your views with us.

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