Mess flying in the summer? What travelers need to know

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Airports are also understaffed and threaten to become jams during peak summer times. © Christoph Soder / dpa / dpa-tmn

Canceled flights, airport handling problems: Air travel in a chaotic summer could be imminent. Is Eid in danger? What are the rights of vacationers in the event of a problem with the plane?

BERLIN – Canceled flights, long queues at check-in and security monitoring: For many Britons, spring break kicked off at the beginning of June with plenty of frustration at the airport. The problems were caused by staff shortages at airlines and airports.

Conditions at airports showed that: More people want to travel again, but the airline industry can barely meet this sharp increase in demand – there is a shortage of employees who have looked or had to look for other jobs during the pandemic.

Lufthansa and Eurowings already canceled hundreds of flights in July. The head of the air traffic control union recently warned of unprecedented chaos at German airports this summer, and called on politicians to take action.

What can vacationers expect during the summer holidays?

“We expect this situation to continue throughout the summer and into the fall, as it is difficult or practically impossible to build the necessary staff in all affected areas on short notice,” says Carolina Wojtal of Germany’s European Consumer Center.

What can travelers do before departure?

Stay informed about the status of your flight. And be at the airport on time. “In general, travelers should arrive at the airport earlier than usual – at least two and a half to three hours before departure,” recommends Melanie Gerhardt, head of security and crisis management at tour operator DER Touristik. If possible, check the Internet in advance. Those who can dispense with checked baggage on short trips.

If you live near the airport, you may be able to check in the night before and check your bags at the same time. Some airlines offer this, Gerhardt says, saving vacationers having to queue at check-in. It is recommended that you go to security as soon as you check in. If you have already checked in in advance, go there as soon as you arrive at the airport. All of these tips are especially applicable to busy holiday periods.

In light of flight cancellations that have already been announced: When and how can my airline cancel my flight?

In principle, it can always do this – depending on the time, passengers are entitled to compensation and, if necessary, compensation. This is the purpose of the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulations. This applies to all flights departing within the European Union. For flights that land in the European Union, this applies only if the airline is based in one of the member states of the European Union.

Is a package vacation booked for summer vacation in jeopardy?

The German Travel Association (DRV), which represents tour operators and travel agencies, offers at least everything. “It is unlikely that well-booked routes to holiday destinations around the Mediterranean or to destinations further afield will be canceled on a larger scale,” the on-demand DRV said. “This is especially true of flights purchased by tour operators early on.”

The regulators and travel agencies are in close contact with the airlines in order to keep the effects of potential flight cancellations as low as possible. The DRV also states that not all airlines have yet communicated in detail about which specific flights should be cancelled. However, domestic flights are often affected, and are less important for tourist trips.

Can I book at short notice now?

DRV does not anticipate that staffing shortages at airlines and airports will affect the offer of last-minute flights. “There are still a large number of trips that can be booked for the summer.”

And if I’m still looking for flights – wouldn’t they be expensive?

According to a survey by flight search engine Skyscanner published this week, travelers can save money by being flexible. Flying to Turkey in the last week of August is on average about 36 percent cheaper than it was in mid-July – the average savings for a family of four is €428.

You can also save money with departure days if you can arrange it accordingly. According to Skyscanner, it is often advised to fly within a week. The flight search engine and its competitors like Kayak, Momondo, or Google Flights have a calendar overview where you can compare flight prices for specific routes over the course of a week or month and find out the cheapest flight days for the connection you’re looking for.

In the event of a cancellation, does the airline have to either rebook me, or do I risk getting my money back for the ticket – but then I don’t have a flight?

According to the Air Passenger Rights Act, passengers have the right to choose between a full refund of the ticket price and rebooking by the airline. So you have the right to rebook,” said consumer advocate Wojtal. “It doesn’t always work in practice.”

If the trip is canceled a few days ago, vacationers should check what is cheaper for them. They may be able to book cheaper flights because sometimes prices drop again shortly before departure – that’s talking about a refund. However, you should insist on rebooking if the alternative flights you have chosen are much more expensive than the canceled flight.

What to note: As a general rule, the airline rebooks the traveler, according to Logtal. Otherwise, you should definitely get the airline’s approval for the independent alternative booking so that there are no issues with getting refunds.

What about a self-booked hotel or vacation home if my flight is canceled through no fault of my own?

You still have to pay for it. Wojtal explains that you can only request a refund if the general terms and conditions of the holiday home or hotel operator state for cancellation. Otherwise, there is only hope for goodwill.

What applies to group flights in case of flight cancellation?

The regulator is responsible for this. The Consumer Advice Center in Hamburg states that they must arrange an alternative means of transportation. And the price of travel should not rise as a result of the new flight connection, even if the tour operator has to buy more expensive flights on short notice due to cancellation.

Anyone who provides their mobile phone number when booking will be immediately notified by our security department if flight times are changed or canceled, explains Melanie Gerhardt of DER Touristik. And: “If a guest really misses their flight, we’ll take care of rebooking around the clock.”

According to consumer advocate Lujtal, if a trip is canceled as part of an all-inclusive trip, then claims against the tour operator can be considered – to reduce the price of travel or even compensate for useless vacation time.

If I cancel as a single traveler, am I also entitled to a compensation payment?

maybe yes. Timing is crucial. If cancellation information is sent by the airline less than 14 days before departure, in addition to the stated right to choose between payment and rebooking, you may also be entitled to compensation of up to 600 euros – depending on the specific individual case.

According to Lugtal, a consumer advocate, there are important questions: When exactly was the person informed? Was an alternative flight offered, and if so, how many should you take off or land next? What is the duration of the flight path?

Specifically: If the cancellation is notified seven days to two weeks before departure and alternative flights are offered that depart a maximum of two hours earlier and land a maximum of four hours after the original flights, you are not entitled to compensation. If notified less than seven days in advance, this applies only to alternative flights that depart a maximum of one hour before and land a maximum of two hours.

Otherwise, you are usually entitled to compensation. For example, for trips up to 1500 km, it is 250 euros. The only thing that can throw a wrench in the works: if unusual circumstances like bad weather cause a flight to be cancelled.

Good to know: If you have to wait for your alternative flight at the airport due to cancellation at short notice, you are entitled to support services. According to Logtal, depending on the length of the waiting period, meals or hotel accommodations can be provided.

What is the legal status if I miss the flight due to lack of staff at the security checkpoint?

“Here it depends on the individual case, it’s not regulated by regulation,” says Carolina Wojtal. There is no claim against the airline, tour operator or airport operator unless the passenger arrives at the airport in time prior to departure.

The primary requirement to hold the airline or operator accountable is a regulatory error in the lead up to check-in or control, eg using too few staff, opening too few counters or locks or generally poor organization of operations.

As a judgment of the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main shows, in the event of excessive waiting times in security checks organized by the Federal Police, you may also be entitled to compensation from the Federal Republic of Germany if you arrive at the airport in advance of the time as recommended by Airport operator or airline. (Az. 1 U 220/20)

Mess flying in the summer?  What travelers need to know
Long lines at the counter: vacationers should come to the airport early. © Christoph Soder / dpa / dpa-tmn

If you’re at the airport at the right time and you still risk missing a flight due to long queues, it’s important to document the passage of time, travel attorney Paul Digot told the German Liberation Network (RND). So you have to take pictures of some situations – like arriving on time to the airport, the queue in the building, the number of open tables.

Consumer advocate Wojtal also advises: If there is a risk of getting into the plane, you should ask to give priority to control. Otherwise, the passenger may be held liable for the loss of the flight.”

Who helps you to claim your rights in case of delayed flights?

Research the list of passenger rights yourself and then contact the airlines – many people shy away from this effort. The Flugärger app from the consumer advice center NRW can come in handy here, for example. With the free app available for iOS and Android, travelers can check their claims and write an email to the airline.

The European Consumer Center offers a browser-based self-help tool for flight issues.

There is also a compensation calculator at the ADAC Motorists’ Club. This allows you to check your rights for free and then decide if and how to take action, according to the ADAC. Users can then create a message form, contact the Public Transport Arbitration Committee (SÖP), or appoint contracting lawyers from the club or passenger rights portal Myflightright, which ADAC works with.

Mess flying in the summer?  What travelers need to know
Arrive in peace: this is how vacationers wish to arrive by plane – in fact, sometimes it is different. © Benedikt von Imhoff / dpa / obs

There are plenty of such passenger rights portals, and other providers include EUclaim, Fairplane or Airhelp. Your service will cost a commission if it is successful, depending on the amount of reimbursement. This means that passenger assistants participate in the payment of compensation. It is therefore advisable to first contact the airline yourself directly, for example with the help of the mentioned free tools. dpa

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