Unless you plan to follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and travel solely by land and sea, your round the world trip will inevitably mean taking lots of flights. While the majority of travellers jet around the world without a hitch, what happens when things don’t run so smoothly? Airlines are tightly regulated, so it’s worth knowing where you stand – understanding your rights could even mean you end up with some extra funds in your travel kitty.

The rules and regulations outlined below apply to flights from the EU or on any EU airline worldwide. However, similar laws may be in place in other parts of the world.

What are you entitled to claim back if your flight is delayed?

You can consider yourself very fortunate if you make it all the way around the world without a single hold up – the odd delay here and there is an almost inevitable part of globetrotting. While there are lots of things you can do to make the best of any hanging around in airports, such as travelling with your Kindle, iPod and journal, there are also various things the airline is obligated to do if your flight is delayed:

  • If you reach your destination 3 hours or more after the scheduled arrival time, you’re due compensation of between €250 to €600 (depending on the flight distance involved) although this doesn’t apply if the delay was due to events beyond the airline’s control.
  • If your flight is delayed for between 2-4 hours (depending on the distance of flight) all passengers are entitled to meals and refreshments, two phone calls, faxes or emails.
  • If your flight is delayed overnight, hotel accommodation and necessary transfers must be provided.

What are my rights in the event of flight cancellation?

Flight cancellations are much less likely to affect your trip than delays, but if an airline does cancel a flight, here’s where you stand:

  • You should be offered a re-route or a pro-rata refund (based on mileage). If the new flight is the next day or any later, appropriate accommodation and transfers must be provided.
  • Appropriate meals and refreshments must be offered, along with two phone calls, faxes or emails
  • Compensation of €250 - €600 is payable depending on the distance of the flight

However, watch out - the above is not applicable if:

  • The flight cancellation was beyond the airline’s control (adverse weather conditions)
  • You are informed of the cancellation at least two weeks before departure
  • If you are notified 7-14 days from departure and offered an alternative flight departing no more than 2 hours before and arriving less than 4 hours after the original departure time
  • If you are informed within 7 days of departure and are offered an alternative flight which departs no more than 1 hour before and arrives less than 2 hours after the original departure time.

    Is a schedule change the same as a cancellation or delay?

    No. All airlines regularly alter their schedules. Most schedule changes are relatively minor (e.g. an hour or so), but sometimes, particularly on less busy routes such as between South Pacific islands, they can be for up to two or three days.

    What if you’re denied boarding because the flight is overbooked?

    We’re not talking about passengers being denied boarding for being drunk, abusive or hilariously joking that they’ve got a bomb in their bag. Unsurprisingly, these passengers get pretty short shrift.

    In this instance, denied boarding relates to airlines overbooking flights and needing to offload passengers, or where passengers are refused boarding due to an airline error.

    Overbooking flights is a common practice in the airline industry as there are always passengers who are a ‘no show’ for flights. More often than not, they get their numbers right, and there is no need to offload anyone. However, what happens when airlines get it wrong, and there are more passengers than seats?

    • First and foremost, the airline must ask for volunteers. They’ll provide some enticement (usually financial) to anyone prepared to take a later flight, and they should make this offer in writing. If you’re not in a rush, this could be a great way to give your travel funds a much-needed boost!
    • If insufficient volunteers come forward, the airline can deny boarding to non-volunteers. In this instance, compensation of €250-€600 is payable, depending on the flight distance involved. Also, appropriate meals and refreshments, accommodation and transfers (where applicable), as well as two phone calls, faxes or emails, must be offered.

    What happens if the airline wants to upgrade or downgrade you?

    For the same reasons as outlined above under ‘denied boarding’ (i.e. the overbooking of flights), airlines will sometimes try to upgrade or downgrade passengers to a different cabin. An upgrade is clearly a more appealing option(!) and most of us have nothing to downgrade from… but here’s how it works:

    • If you are lucky enough to be upgraded by the airline (e.g. Economy to Business Class), they can’t request any supplementary payment
    • If you are downgraded (again the airline must seek volunteers first), you’re entitled to a refund of 30-70% of your ticket price, depending on the flight distance involved, payable within 7 days.

    How do you get a free upgrade to business class?

    Customers often ask us for tips on getting upgrades. The short answer is that if we knew the answer to that question we’d all be sipping champagne in club class every time we fly - which is sadly not the case.

    The truth is that it’s quite rare for airlines to upgrade passengers and no hard and fast rules apply. However, airlines will always give their frequent flyers preference, and it doesn’t hurt to dress smart, be polite and smile. Good luck!

    Avoiding the worst

    It may sound like we're blowing our own trumpet, but you will save a considerable amount of hassle if you book your round the world flights with a good agent (like us!). We have a great deal of experience dealing with passengers who have missed or delayed flights so that we can advise you on the best course of action. We can communicate with the airlines for you, and the job of re-booking your flights in the event of schedule changes or cancellations is in our hands, rather than taking up your time. You can feel comfortable that you're not on your own in a situation when you have a team of staff here waiting to help!

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