Q: I recently flew from Madrid to Lisbon on Iberia Airlines. The airline delayed my flight four hours. An Iberia representative in Madrid told me that under EU rules, I was entitled to 250 euros compensation.
I filed two claims two months ago, and sent Iberia all the necessary supporting documents. The Iberia website shows that it received the claim but hasn’t processed it yet. I’ve tried to reach out to the executive contacts on your site, but no one has responded. Can you help me? — Daniel Brennan, Maitland, Florida
A: You’re right — under EC 261, the European airline consumer protection rule, you and your companion are entitled to 250 euros for the delay. Iberia should have paid your claim promptly.
Why didn’t it? Well, EC 261 is a long and complicated rule, and subject to different interpretations. It’s possible that while the representative in Madrid had one interpretation, the folks who pay the claims had another favoring the airline. I have details on EC 261 on my consumer-advocacy site. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean.
I’ve called EC 261 the rule airlines hate the most. That’s because it holds them responsible for their performance. In the United States, air carriers can delay or cancel a flight with little to no consequences. Not so in Europe. Canada is reportedly considering a rule similar to EC 261.
The one thing EC 261 doesn’t specify a timeline for paying passengers. Iberia could drag its feet for months and still technically comply with European regulations. It isn’t unusual to find passengers waiting weeks, months and, in extreme cases, up to a year, for compensation under EC 261.
I have a love-hate relationship with EC 261. On the one hand, it’s a necessary rule that provides real compensation when something goes wrong. We desperately need a regulation like it in the United States. On the other hand, the way in which it’s written leaves so much open to creative interpretation by airlines that it’s often ineffective.
I’m surprised that the executive contacts at Iberia didn’t respond to you. Normally, an email like yours would get routed to the customer service department, which would reply promptly — especially for a legitimate claim. When the higher-level contacts go into radio silence, you can circle back and ask the normal customer service contacts to help you. Or you can contact me.
You went with option No. 2, and I’m happy you did. I contacted Iberia on your behalf. Iberia reviewed your claims and determined that it made a “mistake” when processing your claim. A check is in the mail.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.
© 2019 Christopher Elliott. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.