Flight change flight postponed? These are your rights!

"Help, our flight to Egypt has been postponed. Instead of flying at 9:40 a.m., we’re not flying until 7:50 p.m. In addition, our airport has been changed. Instead of flying from Berlin, we now fly from Dresden. What now?" Calls for help of this kind abound in travel forums before the start of the vacation season. It has become a bad habit for tour operators to change flight times or airports after the fact. test.de tells what rights travelers have – and what special rules apply to package tours.

Which travel changes are to be accepted?

Since July 2018, a new travel law applies. Organizers can now unilaterally change the travel itinerary even after the travel booking has been made if the small print of the travel contract contains a so-called reservation of right to make changes and the change is "insignificant". What would be considerable, the law does not say, however. In each complaint case the courts will have to specify that in the future individually. Possibly the courts orientate themselves at the old legal situation. Previously, the rough rule of thumb applied to flight time postponements, for example: customers had to accept a postponement of up to four hours as an inconvenience without compensation (e.g., Landgericht Frankfurt, Ref. 1-24 S 181/06).

Significant flight time changes are travel defects

Many courts ruled on the basis of the old legal situation that a travel defect exists only after a flight time change of at least five hours. Only if a travel defect is present, the vacation maker is entitled to reduce the travel price. Since vacationers at the time of the flight postponement often already transferred the entire travel price to the organizer, have it thus requirement on a refund. After the past iurisdiction there was starting from the fifth hour flight postponement per started hour a discount of 5 per cent on the daily travel price.

Example: If a 14-day trip costs 1,400 euros and the departure is postponed by 10 hours, the rebate is 30 euros.

However, some courts have been stricter in the past and have even considered shifts of more than four hours within the day of arrival as reasonable.

Importantly for customers: In any case, the tour operator must inform you – for example, by e-mail or letter – that the flight will be rescheduled.

Our advice

Right to withdraw from the trip free of charge (cancellation)

Cancellation. The new travel right plans a free cancellation right of the customer with substantial travel changes. This right exercises a holiday-maker, by it because of the travel change the resignation explains (section 651g paragraph 3 sentence 1 in connection with section 651h paragraph 1 sentence 2 of the civil law book). Is now a flight postponement by more than four hours or a change of the airport already a travel change so serious that the customer can cancel free of charge?? One will have to wait, how the courts convert the new travel right. A flight postponement of four hours will probably not be sufficient to be able to cancel free of charge. A flight postponement of ten hours, which causes considerable inconvenience or even additional costs for the vacationer, is very likely to be considered a "significant travel change".

Alternative travel price reduction. Who decided despite the flight postponement for the participation in the journey and it on legal disputes for the penetration of the free right of cancellation to come does not want, which should complain the transfer at least immediately as lack of travel with the organizer and announce to make valid after end of the vacation because of the lack a partial refund of the travel price. The traveler is entitled to a small compensation in the form of the above-mentioned reduction in the price of the trip if the trip is not at least equivalent to the originally booked trip under the changed conditions (changed flight times or airport locations) (Section 651g, Paragraph 3, Sentence 2 of the German Civil Code).

Postponement of the return flight

Sometimes the shock comes only on vacation: If the organizer communicates for instance on the day before the departure that the return flight was shifted by eleven hours forward and one is to make oneself ready already at night for the departure (package tour: Sudden departure in the night).

Reduce travel price. This is certainly also a travel defect. Holidaymakers should inform the local tour guide of this shortcoming in a roundabout way, that they do not agree with it and demand a solution to the problem. If the organizer does not remedy the situation, they can claim a reduction in the price of the trip for a rescheduled return flight.

Book alternative flight. Or you book an alternative flight to the original departure time on your own while still on vacation and charge the additional costs to the tour operator. This alternative is not popular with many vacationers, however, because the traveler usually has to pre-finance the alternative flight and then claim his money from the operator – if necessary by taking legal action.

Independent. Objective. Incorruptible.

Travel price reduction for airport changes

Also the change of the departure or return airport can be classified after new legal situation as substantial change of the contract and lack of journey. How much travel price reduction is possible for vacationers in such a case depends in particular on how far the new airport is from the airport actually agreed upon and how long the subsequent bus or train transfer to the home airport takes. This is how the courts rule:

  • Return flight to Saarbrucken instead of Stuttgart. Reduction in the amount of a total of 73.75 percent based on the daily travel price (Amts-gericht Munchen, Az. 132 C 1229/19). Apart from the shifting of the arrival airport with the homeward journey to Saarbruecken the organizer had shifted the return flight around altogether 6.5 hours before. For airport postponement plus flight time change there was 7.5 percent reduction per hour postponement (altogether 48.75 percent). Because the early return flight (6.30 o’clock in the morning instead of 14.30 o’clock in the afternoon) affected the night rest of the last day of the vacation, the court granted an additional reduction in the amount of 25 percent of the daily travel price.
  • Outbound flight from Leipzig instead of Berlin. Reduction in the amount of 15 percent related to the daily travel price (Amts-gericht Munchen, Az. 154 C 19092/17).
  • Return flight to Paderborn instead of Leipzig. Reduction in the amount of 70 percent based on the daily travel price (Leipzig District Court, Az. 142 C 217/10).
  • Return flight to Amsterdam instead of Dusseldorf. Reduction at a value of 40 per cent referred to the daily travel price (local court Dusseldorf, Az. 26 C 5498/06).
  • Return flight to Dusseldorf instead of Hanover. Reduction in the amount of 5 percent of the total price of the trip (Gifhorn District Court, Az. 2 C 655/04).

Of course, in the event of a change of airport, the tour operator must not only refund part of the price of the trip, but also pay for the necessary bus or train transfer to the originally contracted airport.

Avion Express instead of Condor – change of the airline company

Many vacationers complain when, after booking a trip, the airline is changed and they have to fly, for example, with the Lithuanian airline Avion Express or the Latvian airline Smartlynx Air-lines instead of Condor. The travelers feared that the flight staff did not speak German or that the replacement aircraft had no in-flight entertainment. The jurisdiction classifies the change of the airline however as a rule as to be accepted inconvenience. In 1999, for example, the Bad Homburg District Court ruled that switching to an airline with a Belgian crew that is not German-speaking is not a travel defect (Az. 2 C 397/99). Of course it represents objectively a worsening, if instead of an airplane with Entertainment system a flier without this service flies to the vacation goal. But travel law experts such as Wiesbaden lawyer Holger Hopperdietzel consider this reasonable, at least for short- and medium-haul flights (interview with lawyer Hopperdietzel). Something else applies only in rare cases, such as when the travel agent has expressly promised the flight with a certain airline.

Money from Air-line for arrival delay

The right to travel price reduction is only available to those who have booked a travel package, for example flight and accommodation with a travel agent (Package tour). If you organize your hotel and flight separately without a tour operator, you are entitled to compensation from the airline in case of a cancelled flight or an arrival delay of three hours, according to the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation. Depending on the route, this can be between 250 and 600 euros. You can find out more about your rights – and how to enforce them – in our special Air passenger rights: The path to compensation.

Air-line must also compensate package travelers

What many package travelers do not know: They also have this claim against the airline in case of cancellations and arrival delays of three or more hours. Many travelers are confused by the fact that they can only get money from the tour operator if the flight is delayed by at least five hours, but they can claim from the airline if the arrival time is delayed by three hours. Legally, however, these two claims are to be strictly separated. Perhaps the legislator or the jurisdiction will adjust the two time limits one day – but this is not yet the case.

Claims are settled

If a vacationer receives money for the same hassle (such as a flight cancellation), both from the tour operator and from the airline, a set-off takes place. If the traveler has already received a refund from the organizer, this must be taken into account in the claim against the airline (and vice versa).

Example: A traveler has received 80 euros from the organizer for the cancellation and then asserts his claim for compensation in the amount of 250 euros with the air-line. This must pay him only 170 euros.

Delay compensation from Air-line more lucrative

For package travelers, the delay compensation from the airline according to the European Air Passenger Rights Regulation is usually more lucrative than the travel price reduction from the tour operator. The delay compensation is usually at least 250 euros, for long-haul flights even 600 euros per person. A flight time delay usually brings less, namely only a partial refund of a day’s travel fare. However, if a lot goes wrong with their vacation, vacationers receive money from two places: First, a discount from the organizer for the flight postponement. And, secondly, if the delayed flight arrives more than three hours late, compensation from the airline. No compensation, however, if travelers were informed of the cancellation at least two weeks prior to departure.

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