What Are Airlines' Duties of Care to Stranded Hurricane Passengers?
As Hurricane Sandy barrels down on the East Coast, steadily climbing the coast of the U.S. to reach New England, more than 12,200 flights have been canceled as of Monday afternoon, according to the Wall Street Journal.
However, in the U.S., those stranded in airports as a result of those grounded flights might be stranded in more ways than one.
European travelers, including up to 2,500 Britons stuck in New York due to canceled flights, have the advantage of European Union Regulation (EC) 261/2004, which requires airlines compensate passengers if their flight is canceled or heavily delayed, according to an article from Daily Mail.
According to an article from Terminal U, EU passengers have the choice to receive either a full refund of the cost of the ticker within seven days or the next available flight to the first point of departure or a re-routing to their final destination and care.
UK airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, must also offer meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation as appropriate while passengers wait for a rearranged flight. The airline should also cover any transport costs between the hotel and airport.
Middle Eastern, European, Asian and U.S. airlines have all grounded flights in and out of America’s eastern seaboard as 350-mile-wide Sandy prepares to make landfall later Monday, according to a report from CNN.
“Every day this goes on you’re seeing combined losses to the airlines of roughly $10 million,” says Simon Calder, travel editor of the UK’s The Independent newspaper, to CNN.
“The cost is actually much worse for European airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, because they have to pay for accommodation and meals for their customers who are stuck in the U.S. – particularly in New York,” he continues.
U.S. airlines, however, do not share that requirement and are not legally responsible for passengers’ meals or accommodation during these extraordinary circumstances.
“Delta and United can just say, ‘Sorry, this is a weather event and you’re not covered,” Calder tells CNN.
Under the EU rules, airlines must compensate passengers up to 600 Euros if their flight is canceled or heavily delayed, excepting situations caused by “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken,” Daily Mail reports. That means Hurricane Sandy, as well as the volcanic ash cloud that grounded planes around the world in 2010.
However, the exceptional circumstances of these events does not remove the duty of care in the regulations – airlines still must provide accommodation, meals and refreshments, plus transport between the airport and accommodation.
If the airline does not provide immediate assistance, Daily Mail recommends keeping spending to a minimum, collect and keep all receipts and claim reimbursement from the airline when passengers arrive home.
All American Airlines flights to the east coast are canceled, but the airline is operating a normal service to other parts of the country. United Airlines grounded approximately 3,700 flights between Sunday and Wednesday, and Delta has announced that all flights from Washington to Boston, and out of New York and Philadelphia, were canceled, CNN reports.
Both United and Delta are allowing some customers to change their flight plans without paying any fees due to the storm.
As of 3 p.m. ET, Philadelphia International Airport suspended all flight operations Monday, and has been the most affected airport, with more than 1,200 cancelations, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says that its three airports – LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International – remain open for emergencies, but airlines have canceled all flights there on Monday. Port Authority officials are still assessing the situation for Tuesday flights, but are worries about potential flooding, WSJ reports.