Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Christopher Bisping highlights what you should know in light of the United Airlines incident

Christopher Bisping Associate Professor of Law at the University of Warwick provides expert insight into passenger rights in Europe in light of the United Airlines incident,

"Air passengers in the European Union are protected by EU Regulation 261/2004 on air passenger rights. These rights cover cases of cancellation, delay and denied boarding. For cancellation and long delay passenger are entitles to compensation depending on the distance of the flight and the amount of time added to the journey. In either case, airlines are obliged to carry the passenger via alternative means to his or her destination and to provide them with meals, refreshments, and, if an overnight stay becomes necessary, accommodation. Before denying boarding to passengers due to overbooking of an aircraft, airlines are first obliged to call for volunteers to give up their seats against compensation. Should not enough volunteers come forward, then the airline can refuse to board passengers the airline has selected, who in turn are entitled to the rights they would have had in case of cancellation.

"These rights apply to all flights departing from an EU airport and also to those flights arriving in the EU if the air carrier is based in the EU.

There are less extensive rights in force in other countries, including the United States. What happened on board UA3411, when a passenger was forcefully removed from the aircraft against his will, is not a situation of denied boarding. The passenger had already boarded the aircraft, which also was not overbooked, as the extra seats were required for UA crew rather than passengers. This was therefore a different situation of refusal of carriage, which all airlines provide for in their contracts of carriage. Such refusal is typically exercised for safety reasons, and therefore enforced by law enforcement agencies, as happened in this case. The issue here was that the removed passenger did not constitute a safety concern. Far reaching grounds for removal contractually agreed in the contract of carriage in the EU would fall foul of unfair contract terms legislation. Such legislation is lacking in the US though."


Alex Buxton
Media Relations Manager
Tel: 02476 150423
Mob: 07876 218166