Resolution regarding my delayed Lufthansa flight and EC 261/2004

Two weeks ago I was flying from Frankfurt to Salzburg on Lufthansa, and due to a mechanical problem the flight was canceled and we were rebooked on the next flight which was more than four hours later.

Stuff like this happens and while it’s frustrating, ordinarily I wouldn’t complain. Especially since it just meant spending a few extra hours in the Lufthansa First Class Lounge. That being said, the EU has some of the most generous laws for compensation when it comes to flight delays and cancelations, specifically under regulation EC 261/2004. Articles five and seven of this suggest that if a flight with a distance of up to 1,500km is canceled and you are delayed over three hours you’re entitled to 250EUR cash.

However, when I mentioned this to the agents in the First Class Lounge they more or less laughed at me and denied such a policy existed, first stating it was only for longhaul flights and then stating it wouldn’t apply since this was a mechanical.

Look, I think the EU’s laws are actually too consumer friendly in this regard, but at the same time I don’t like being lied to, and it’s clear that airport agents are trained to pretend this regulation doesn’t exist. And for that matter I wanted to find out the real truth, so I could share the results here.

A little over a week ago I sent a very short email to Lufthansa explaining what happened and referencing EC 261/2004. Today I received the following response from Lufthansa:

Thank you for your correspondence and for choosing Lufthansa for your travel needs. We are sorry to hear that the Lufthansa flight LH1104 on September 17 from Frankfurt to Salzburg had cancelled unexpectedly due to technical reasons. It is our aim to provide a worry-free travel experience for all our passengers and like you, we are disappointed when this goal is not achieved.

We know that your time is valuable and for this reason Lufthansa continuously strives to maintain the superior operational performance you deserve. Despite our best efforts, many factors beyond our control may impact flight operations and while we can certainly understand your frustration, we appreciate your understanding that all decisions are made with the safety of our passengers and crew first and foremost.

However, we hope for your understanding that, where flight irregularities are caused by certain circumstances, it can be difficult to predict the extent of the disruption and regret the consequent problems encountered by our passengers. When unexpected flight irregularities do occur, we expect our staff to assist all passengers and to do everything in their power to hold inconvenience to a minimum. In these instances, passengers are rebooked to their final destination at the earliest opportunity, subject to availability of seats. According to the history of your reservation, our staff had rebooked you and your father with Lufthansa flight LH1106 later that day to Salzburg. On behalf of Lufthansa, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and the disruption to your travel plans as we realize you arrived later than anticipated.

We also realize that it is particularly disturbing to find that a carefully planned trip is disrupted by the irregularity of our flight and would like to be of assistance to you. In compliance with EU Regulation EC 261/2004, we will be sending you and your father each a check for USD331 (EUR250) to your home in Tampa which should arrive within the next three weeks.

Mr. Schlappig, we value your patronage and ask for you to view this experience as an exception to our performance and assure you and your father that we will strive to ensure that future flights with us will again meet your expectations. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

So I’m actually extremely pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I figured that if I actually wanted a shot at the compensation I’d have to enlist the help of a legal service that specializes in this stuff (which I wasn’t about to do), but sure enough a simple email did the trick.

Comments

  1. I think it’s damaging for the airlines, but I’m more considerate to non-EU airlines. And truth be told, it encourages me to travel to the EU.

  2. Do you happen to know if similar rules apply for cancelled domestic flights in the U.S.? I had a flight cancelled last week due to a mechanical issue. I arrived at my final destination 4 hours after my original scheduled arrival.

  3. @ Steven — Nope, the EU is the only region I know of that has such strict government regulations over passenger entitlements in the case of a delay or cancellation.

  4. I think LH lost a recent case in court this year and has been more generous now about meeting its obligations. Before that their standard reply was: tough luck. Lot’s of stories out there on FT about how they have tried to scr** people over by not meetin EC261 over the years, so consider yourself “lucky”.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. Can you share the email that you sent? I would like to know how you handled a situation like this.

  6. @ Tom — I submitted my email through the online form and could’ve sworn I took a screenshot of it, though can’t seem to find it anymore. It was just a very simple paragraph stating the facts as to which flight I was originally booked on, which flight I was rebooked on, and that I believed that under EC 261/2004 I’d be entitled to 250EUR cash compensation.

  7. Nice. I do also believe its a bit too generous, but three hours is a major delay. I missed a day of work once because of that but flew through NRT so didn’t get a dime.

    You were within your legal right to expect the payment and glad LH didn’t give you too much hassle once you wrote in.

  8. Does this apply to award flights on alliance partners? If so, is there a time limit for submitting a complaint?

  9. @ Tim C. — Yep, applies for award flights as well as revenue tickets. Not sure about whether there’s a time limit or not, though.

  10. @Tim C. I had an issue with LH on a United ticket during Sandy, so I happen to know the regs say 2 years, unless something has changed since last October.

  11. So LH actively evades paying this compensation except to the most knowledgeable customers who ask for it?

    We can agree that the government regulation is stupid, but instead of getting it changed, they evade it. That feels unethical.

  12. EU airlines are all but generous. For decades have abused, hitten and beaten passengers paying huge amount of money for domestic/intra EU flights. The regulation of 261 was necessary to fix sick attitute and also now they struggle as much they can to deny the application of it. Most of passengers are even not aware of the due compensation, and I’m pretty sure on a flight like the Ben’s one less than 50% had applied to it. They still make money out of that.

  13. Will this be only with EU countries? Or, is it originating from any of the EU to anywhere? For example, our flights from MUC – ORD got delayed for day due to mechanical problem. Will this be covered, it was a month ago, when the flight was delayed from IST and we missed the flight from MUC – ORD. They provided meal/accommodation for the overnight in Germany.

  14. I can’t help thinking that if you had not sent that e-mail , you and the others who have not, would not have received any compensation.
    We should never listen to the ones who try to make us feel bad for complaining.
    Jealousy is always in the air and on the ground.

  15. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago. I was on a reward ticket, in LH J, and our flight turned back after two hours in the air due to a mechanical fault. I spent a couple of hours in the line waiting to be re-accommodated and given overnight accommodations. I queried the compensation and was told the “hotel” and “rebooking” was what was allowed. It wasn’t until I read something on FlyerTalk that I realized I was entitled to compensation. A polite email to Customer Service was all it took for me to get resolution. I forget how much I got, I think it worked out to about $450 US dollars.

  16. Works for awards too. I was delayed over 12 hours due to a mechanical and then curfew regulation in FRA in August. Upon submitting my claim initially I was denied compensation based on EC 261. I mentioned this to a friend who mentioned that the LH center in SE Asia is one of the worst. He told me to resubmit with a US address which I did and got a similar letter like lucky after about a week. Compensation was 600 Euro ($798). This was for FRA-HKG.

  17. It’s amazing how much more compliant airlines are when they are dealing with a customer who knows the law and what they are entitled to.

    Ben, did you have to make any purchases due to your lost baggage? Any luck with a Montreal Convention claim?

  18. Nice! But weren’t there discussions in comments that you might be due more? I think it was this comment from Jim:

    “You might want to try to get the 600 euro compensation per person(you& your dad). The reason for this is that you had a flight on a European Carrier to the EU. And used it to connect in FRA to get to your final destination Salzburg. So the claim is not the FRA-Salzburg leg, as what you mentioned, but should be Houston-Salzburg.

    In your case you arrived 4+ hours later at Salzburg, which you did, if I am correctly reading your post. Then the 600 euro compensation should be applicable in your situation. I hope this will work out for you!”

  19. @ Ivan Y — While I saw that comment, I went back and read the rules, though article seven suggests to me that 250EUR is in fact the correct compensation. The article reads in part:
    “In determining the distance, the basis shall be the last destination at which the denial of boarding or cancellation will delaythe passenger’s arrival after the scheduled time.”

    Unless anyone interprets it differently?

  20. @ Jill — The bag arrived roughly 18 hours after we did and it was pouring rain the whole time we were in Salzburg, so it didn’t seem worthwhile to buy clothes when it seemed pretty certain the bag would arrive the following day.

  21. @ christo — Oh absolutely, and I bet no one else on that flight got any compensation. Because unless you specifically complain the European airlines don’t seem to want to issue the compensation.

  22. LH just seems to suck at baggage handling recently. My coworker just came back from a trip to Europe and dealt with lost bags too. He flight out of Munich had a stop (same plane but different flight numbers; they had to deplane and reboard) and, for whatever reason, her bags got offloaded at that stop and didn’t make it to her ultimate destination until almost a day later. They came back to her with “Standby” stickers on them even though she flew on an F award.

  23. You’re a lucky man.
    When I needed a compensation (for a delay of 10 hours!), they just didn’t answer me (not Lufthansa, but Swiss) for a few months. Luckily, I didn’t have to put too much effort into it. I just filled out the forms and sent it to the right EU institution. Consequently, the issue was resolved within a week.

    It is true that the regulations are too consumer-friendly, but it’s also needed. I have to say that air-travel prior to these rules was a hell. A delay of 4+ hours was almost guaranteed. After the rules were applied and effectively enforced, air travel became quite a lot better in EU.

  24. I would consider your complaint to be ‘bitchy,’ but I guess this is mitigated by LH agent’s initial response to the matter.

  25. To add some color to this discussion, my dad was recently downgraded from CW to WTP on a US-LHR flight due to CW being oversold. BA pushed a $300 voucher and said tough beans. To rub salt into the wound, it was full fare J ticket. I told my dad to try and rest as much as possible, get a room at LHR before his next overnight flight resting assured he will be getting 75% (category 3 flight) of his fare back in accordance with EU261. BA knew the risk and oversold the flight, without making adequate arrangements. To boot my dad has been a BAEC Gold for over 20yrs!

  26. Consider yourself lucky. I am fighting with AZ over an invol downgrade from C to Y on a DL award. AZ claimed it’s the ticketing carrier that’s responsible (clearly a lie as the law states the exact opposite). It’s now been three weeks since my complaint with the Italian regulator. Still no response.

  27. I would have sent a letter to the President about that employee who laughed at you.

    One thing is to have it wrong and politely deny the claim like “I am sorry MR Lucky for the unfortunate situation but I do not believe that EU laws cover you in this case.” Another thing is to laugh at a FC customer. I bet you that witch would have never had that courage in front of some older German man dressed in Zegna from head to toe.

  28. Lufthansa lies at everyone. You can be HON Circle, you can wear Zegna, you can spend a lot of money: they don’t care.

    I was denied compensation for a very clear case where they accidentially boarded more people on my feeder flight HAM-FRA than allowed and had to offload one passenger and his luggage (they only found out after doors were closed!) and the official reason I got was: it was the weather!

    I arrived in LAX on BA and nine hours later than planned and LH finally settled the 600 EUR due for this. Another great customer service experience 🙁

  29. I had a similar experience in 2008, flying easyJet from Zurich to London. Upon my arrival at the airport, I was told my flight was oversold (what a surprise) and my only option was to be rebooked on a flight departing the next day. As I had an international connection to Australia later that day, I booked another flight (with British Airways) to London, at my expense.

    Once I’d arrived in Australia, I wrote an email to easyJet explaining my situation and was extremely pleased with their response. Not only did they reimburse me for my easyJet fare, but they also compensated me €250. As my flight with British Airways was considerably less, I profited approximately €100 for my troubles! Not bad easyJet!

  30. Lucky thanks for sharing this experience. I really believe that if you don’t pursue your claim, which is rightfully yours due to the EU regulation, no one will do it for you. The fact that you eventually made it to your destination would have been the common approach when it comes to resolving any request for compensation. However, being informed and knowing your rights is always important in dispute cases such as this one.

    I am willing to guess that for you, the real satisfaction actually was knowing that your right was recognized and upheld than the monetary compensation you’ll receive in a few weeks; even though it’s a nice sum of money. Plus it is cash that we’re talking about, as opposed to some airline voucher that you’d have to go through hoops to finally use. One should never give up on one’s rights. So, good on you Lucky, well done!

  31. Croatia Airlines also denied me compensation. And no assistance or even a single ground agent was present at ZAG during the hours of delay. They always try to pull the trigger, betting on the little chance a passenger would venture into a lawsuit for a €250 compensation.

  32. you think it’s too generous—but–you cash the check–lol. Douche to the max. Welcome to “nothing” is beyond my morals land–lol. Enjoy the ride

  33. As good or as bad as service with Lufthansa is perceived, it is an order of magnitude better than United, American and USAirways, or any other US-based air carrier. I fly to Europe and the Mideast ~8 times/year for my job. My employer buys full-fare coach class B tx. I’ve never been comped business class by United (they’d rather leave their unsold business class seats empty), but have been upgraded by Lufthansa multiple times. And let’s not get into the comparisons of food, service, amenities between these airlines. Lufthansa wins hands-down every time.

  34. Let’s see if I understand the series of events as they unfolded.

    1. Airline laughs at customer.

    2. Airline lies to customer by denying the laws and regulations in effect had ever existed.

    3. Airline lies to customer a second time by claiming their legal obligations were only for long haul flights.

    4. Airline lies to customer a third time by claiming their legal obligation would not apply because it was a mechanical problem.

    5. After the incident the airline says nothing, does nothing, and pays nothing.

    6. Customer again asks for compensation that the airline is legally obligated to provide.

    7. Eventually the customer is recognized as a recurring thorn and/or blogger and receives the legally obligated compensation due anyone.

    8. After being laughed at, lied to, and ignored the customer is “extremely pleasantly surprised” upon receiving legally obligated compensation.

    Hmm. I must be missing something.

  35. @Ron Mexico, I’m having a tough time believing your comment is real. A travel blogger sends a polite email to a carrier regarding his legal rights, gets swiftly compensated along with an apology, and as a result you claim he’s a “douche” without morals? That’s … a unique way of looking at things. 😉

  36. Just wanted add that this regulation applies to ALL flights departing from the EU – that includes non-EU airlines! I received compensation from United for a flight ex Germany. Opinions are divided regarding flights to the EU…but it would be worth a shot.

    Glad things worked out, Lucky, and good for you, not surrendering 25% of your compensation to these intermediary websites that take care of the claim for you. Completely unnecessary.

  37. Lucky, I filed a complaint last week with Lufthansa for a cancelled flight last March citing EC 261/2004 and they just responded. They claim that their records show the flight was cancelled due to a lightning strike. We had boarded for takeoff and 30 minutes later were told that the plane’s computer would not start. Wouldn’t the plane have been taken out of service if it had a lightning strike prior to our flight boarding? Should I push this further with LH?

  38. @ Tim C. — Unfortunately this really isn’t my area of expertise. If it was indeed due to a lightning strike then they’re probably not going to pay, though if it was an unrelated technical glitch they should.

  39. Hi Lucky:

    My United flight got canceled from Barcelona to Newark. Stayed a night and the next day flight was delayed over 3 hours. Filed the EC 261/2004 and I just received a letter from United stating that the EU261 compensation is not applicable in this case. This is United explanation: Prior to departure an unexpected safety shortcoming beyond our control impacted the operation of the aircraft originally scheduled for your flight.
    So…What is considered beyond our control? United offered $500 voucher for my inconvenience.
    Any suggestion?

  40. First time I’ve seen this, but interesting. I know that the Euro compensation rules are generous, but I’m surprised that the airlines don’t have some ‘out’ for folks flying on award tickets. I guess not! (You and your Dad were on award tickets, no?) Glad that it worked out well and that you and your Father each pocketed ~~$331. That certainly covered a few incidentals! And yes, I’m shocked that LH made it so difficult for you to verify the rules and make your request. Shame on them. -NFZ

  41. I had a Lufthansa Flight from India to Atlanta. And lay overs at Frankfurt and Washington DC. At DC Airport,my afternoon flight was canceled due to mechanical issues. I was put on a wait list for the flight at night but I didn’t make it to the list. The next flight was scheduled the next day afternoon and I was sent to a hotel with meal vouchers. But the afternoon flight was canceled again. The same night another flight was scheduled, but that got canceled too. And I was sent back to the hotel again. I finally flew out the next morning.

    FYI – The flight from DC to Atlanta was being operated by United Airlines. Do you think I am eligible for any compensation?

  42. @ Nandini — While the EU compensation wouldn’t apply here, if you email United they should be willing to offer you some sort of gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience.

  43. We are sitting in lhr right now since our united flight from str to ewr went mechanical over the atlantic and we returned . They rebooked us later tonight with our connection to lax now tomarrow. Would we be entitled to similar compinsation? And whom would i write to?

  44. This is a very helpful article and makes me hope that our claim might be successful! Our flight was cancelled and so they booked us on the next available one, which was 24 hours later. This meant a full day of waiting around to see what plane we will be able to take and we also had to take one unpaid day off work… I would just like to ask what email address you used to send in your claim? I can only find Lufthansa’s feedback form online, but there are no options for compensation claims, only lost baggage, etc. Thanks for your help!

  45. Ben – What email address at Lufthansa did you contact for compensation? I have been trying to get some money for clients for cancelled flights from August to no avail. They were were on LH ticket stock. Parents in business and two teens in economy, United cancelled their FRA-SFO flight back home and the only way for them to all fly back together, according to LH, was for the parents to book the kids with them in business for 24 hours later, which they did. They ended up shelling out $11k out of pocket to be able to fly home together the next day. LH says its UA’s fault and that UA customer service will reach out to the clients directly… yeah right. I’ve since been evoking regulation EC 261/2004 for Euro 600 compensation per ticket and LH has gone mum. Your help with the correct email address will be very helpful.

    Thank you.

  46. @ Vikram — I just used the online form on Lufthansa’s website. If United canceled the flight I’d be going after them for EC 261/2004 comp.

  47. Here is the email I got today from Aer Lingus replying to my claim for compensation due to a cancelled flight. Any thoughts on next steps?

    Dear Maeve

    Please accept my sincere apology for Aer Lingus not having met your expectations during your travel with us on April 10th 2016. I am very sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment, which resulted from the cancellation to flight 128.

    We are very conscious of the importance of providing customers a reliable service. Regrettably, there remains isolated occasions where service is affected due to an aircraft requiring unscheduled maintenance.

    Airlines under European Union regulation may be required to provide compensation for flight delay and cancellation. Exceptions to the rule are in cases where delay and or cancellation are caused by extraordinary circumstances including technical aircraft problems, which was the basis for the cancellation on this occasion. Under the latter, airlines are required to provide accommodation as appropriate and arrange alternate travel. Additionally, it is Aer Lingus policy to reimburse customers for reasonable receipted out-of-pocket expenses as a result of the disruption to our maximum liability. Claims of a consequential nature such as lost wages, etc are not covered.

    Please submit any receipts for out-of-pocket expenses you may have incurred with reference to this case file number.

    I hope despite the difficulties encountered on this occasion, you will afford us the opportunity to welcome you on board for a more enjoyable and trouble free experience in the future.

    Sincerely

    Bridget / Customer Care Executive

  48. C#375542, hi i have written for compensation its good i m getting reply from Lufthansa. But i want to know how much time it ll take to settle payment.. As in my mail i have mention that my flight got delay and i reached my home 24hr late. Its not easy to spend time on airport that to when u have connecting flight.. Totally i traveled 48hr means two dyas i spend time on airport and in flight.. It was really bad experience travelling with lufthansa.

    Kindly settle the claim ASAP.

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