The European traveller benefits from protective legal rules, if an airline refuses to allow him or her to board, particularly in the event of overbooking. This follows the recent case of a passenger being brutally removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight in the United States.
A European regulation, introduced in 2004, imposes upon airlines the requirement to appeal for passengers to voluntarily give up their seat. Such passengers who accept this situation do so in exchange for other benefits.
The concept of overbooking involves refusing passengers holding a valid ticket the right to board, owing to a lack of places on the aeroplane. Under European legislation, the airlines should find volunteers prepared to take another flight, in exchange for such volunteers enjoying given benefits.
These benefits are not, however, defined by law. The law presumes that the nature and extent of these is a matter for negotiation between the airline and the passenger(s) concerned.
If nobody volunteers to leave the plane, the airline can refuse several passengers the right to board against their will. These passengers then have the right to take a subsequent flight or to the reimbursement of the cost of the booking. In addition they have the right to reimbursement of expenses (accommodation, transfer and food) until the potential next flight, as well as an indemnity of between 250 and 600 euros.
European Consumer Centres Network statistics show that the issue of refusal to board which includes overbooking, but also refusals on the grounds of incorrect travel documents or security reasons, is fairly rare in Belgium.
In 2016, there were 18 cases relating to refusal to board recorded out of a total of 5,703 complaints.
The Centre’s analysis runs thus, “Either refusal to board arises rarely [in Belgium], or it is well managed, given that it is subject to a fairly well defined European framework.”