Returning from Los Angeles to London with American Airlines, we took off four hours late because of some defective computerized equipment and then were diverted to New York. The new computer wasn't working, so we changed planes. We arrived in London nine hours late. American gave us each 13,000 AAdvantage miles (less than half the 40,000 minimum mileage needed for another trip), and argued that U.S. law does not require any compensation for late arrival, only for denied boarding. Would we not be covered by European Union legislation?
Unfortunately, no, because you were traveling on a U.S. carrier. The European Union Air Passenger Rights rules that went into effect last year apply to all passengers who have a confirmed reservation, have checked in on time and are taking off from any airport in the European Union, or are flying to a European Union airport on a European Union airline. American Airlines was not obliged to offer you anything, so be thankful for the free miles.
Here are the main European Union provisions for flight cancellation and delays:
For delays of two, three or four hours, depending on length of flight, airlines are required to serve refreshments or meals, while delays of five hours or more entitle you to a hotel room, if an overnight stay is required, plus a refund if you decide not to travel. If a flight is canceled, you can choose a refund (with a free flight to where you started) or rerouting to your destination; meals, refreshments and hotel, if necessary, must also be included.
Airlines do not have to pay compensation if a cancellation, or delay, is due to "extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken." According to the British Consumers' Association, "This is probably limited to very extreme weather or other unexpected problems that compromise safety, like security alerts."
You can check the new rules at the European Commission's Web site, europa.eu.int/comm/transport/air/rights/info_en.htm.
The Department of Transportation in Washington operates a complaint system, at airconsumer.ost.dot. gov/problems.htm; look for the "Fly-Rights" guide.