Traveling is stressful enough as it is. However, if you travel frequently it is inevitable that one of your flights will be delayed and/or cancelled. Not many customers know what their rights are or what to do in this situation. In this article we try and make sense of the rule and regulations, with a focus on Airlines in South Africa.
All Airlines have a section in their terms and conditions called the Contract of Carriage. This defines the rules and requirements of the airline concerned as regards flights being delayed and/or cancelled. Although the contract of carriage should be in the terms and conditions that you would receive from the airline, they may also only refer to it in the terms and conditions. In this instance, you have the right to request the contract of carriage and this must be made available to you any where you can purchase tickets, including Travel Agents and the Airport.
In South Africa all airlines have their own contract of carriage, which differs from each other. This is very similar internationally, although the US used to have a section called Rule 240. Rule 240 stated that “if an airline couldn’t get you to your destination on time, it was required to put you on a competitor’s flight if it would get you there faster than your original airline’s next flight. Airlines were even required to put you in first class if that’s all that was available.” This was a regulation set in place at the start of the airline industry, but has slowly been removed by individual airlines and diluted. Some airlines still state that they still follow some of Rule 240, but use it mainly now as a guideline.
However, as stated above, South Africa does not have 1 set of rules for all airlines regarding the contract of carriage. Here are some of the airlines regulations.
Kulula.com state that if they make a significant change to the flight time (defined by them as more than 12 hours), and you can not be booked on another flight that you are happy with, they will refund you the cost of the flight. Their liability here being limited to the cost of the flight only.
Mango state that in event of a flight being cancelled they will refund the cost of the flight or put the person on the next available Mango flight, at the passengers election). They do not state what they do in event of an extended delay.
So with each airline having their own contract of carriage rules, what are the similarities?
1 – All the SA Airlines state that the flight time you book and the actual flight time can change between the date that you book and the date that you fly, with no recourse permitted.
2 – The liability of the airline is limited to the cost of the flight only.
3 – That you have the choice of getting the cost of the ticket back or being put on another flight
These similarities focus mainly on what happens if a flight is cancelled. Delays however are quite different. It seems most airlines will give no compensation if a flight is delayed for a reasonable amount of time (which varies but is commonly understood to be less than 12 hours) or if the delay is as a result of a Force Majeur. A Force Majeur is basically an Act of God and has many references by could mean anything that is completely out of the airlines control (weather, terrorist activity, etc.).
As a final note, the SA Government is trying to make it so that people have a right to compensation when they get bumped from a flight (bumping occurs as airlines overbook flights to take up the slack as they assume a certain number of no-shows). They want this to include cost of flights, cost in trying to make the flight, as well as lost other monies. Airlines are fighting this as they fear that people will also be able to sue for lost earnings as a result of for example missing a job interview. Perhaps a better way is to require airlines to penalise people if the are no-shows, thus not needing to over book anymore.