When Icelandair announced a seven-hour delay in a connection my husband and I were making from Reykjavik to Rome after a morning flight from Seattle, I began making mental contingency plans.
Any further delays would cause us to miss the last train of the evening to Naples, our final destination. If that happened, we'd be stuck in Rome for the night where last-minute hotel bookings were going for $500 and up. In desperation, I did a quick Google search on where to find the best lounge chairs for stretching out in Fiumicino airport.
As it turned out, our flight from Reykjavik landed in Rome at 9:30 p.m., time enough for us to run with our carry-ons to the station inside the airport. We made the last train leaving at 9:53 p.m. There was no time to stop and buy a ticket, so we begged the conductor to let us pay on the train, He did, and even giving us a discount from the normally higher price. The train pulled out as scheduled, putting us into Naples at midnight, a full 24 hours after leaving Seattle.
Had this happened in the United States, the airline would owe us nothing but an apology. There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when flights are delayed.
But was Europe, and since Icelandair is based in the EU, almost all of its flights are protected by Regulation EC 261, one of the most comprehensive laws protecting air passenger rights worldwide.
EC Regulation 261 grants passengers the right to seek compensation when they have experienced delayed (two to four hours or more), cancelled, or overbooked flights, with few exceptions. Those include weather, strikes, security risks etc. but not technical problems.
Bottom line: We each qualified for 400 euros in compensation for the delay which Iceland Air admitted was caused by “a shortage of aircraft,” in this case meaning our plane, originally scheduled to leave Reykjavik for Rome at 8:30 a.m., had to be diverted to Dublin.
For a flight to be eligible for compensation under EU 261, it must be either departing from a Member State—one of the 27 EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as most outlying territories—or departing from a nonmember country with a destination within a Member State.
The rule includes flights departing from the EU to the U.S. (but not from the U.S. to the EU) and some other countries and even connecting flights within the U.S. operated by U.S. partners of EU airlines. This means that any U.S. domestic flight booked through an EU airline on a single itinerary will be covered by the law.
The policy applies to all airlines, even U.S. based carriers. Few American travelers are familiar with this rule, and airlines are rarely pro-active in passing on this information.
Icelandair was the exception. Not only did the airline send us text messages saying meal vouchers would be automatically added to our boarding passes while we waited (also an EU requirement), we were handed brochures outlining the rules, and referencing an Iceland Air customer support website where we could fill out claim forms.
There are worse airports in which to be forced to spend seven hours than Iceland's Keflavik, but few are more expensive.
Leaving the airport on a long layover is out of the question, considering the Keflavik is 30 from downtown Reykjavik, and the bus ride costs $50 each way.
|Crowds boarding at Keflavik airport|
Our $40 meal vouchers went quickly on smoked salmon omelettes ($14 each), coffee and snacks for the next flight. The airport wins points for free and fast Wi-Fi, clean restrooms, and lots of plug-in outlets for electronic devices. On the downside, there's just one area with lounge chairs, and gate areas tend get crowded in the late afternoon.
Upon returning home to Seattle, I filled out the claim form, a surprisingly simple task that asked only for flight booking numbers, ticket numbers, flight numbers and dates of travel. I was assigned a case number, and received an e-mail telling me it might take a few weeks for resolution.
Two weeks later, I received the following e-mail from Icelandair:
"We apologise that your case has not yet progressed.For the past weeks we have experienced a heavy workload but we want to inform you that we have received your case, and we are trying our best to process your inquiry. We thank you for your patience and understanding."