Passengers waiting at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Passengers waiting at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Photo by David Bachar
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When a flight that was supposed to take off at 5 A.M. is delayed until 5 P.M., the vacation starts off on the wrong foot. That's what happened to Tania, who planned a trip to Moscow with her mother three months in advance. She'd worked out every last detail, including train tickets she'd prebooked from Moscow to a city in northern Russia. "The delay forced us to miss our train," she says. "Our entire timetable was scheduled based on our takeoff and landing times, and the delay messed everything up."

This experience is familiar to many travelers. But starting yesterday, a law went into effect mandating that airlines have to compensate travelers for changing flight times. The law, proposed by MK Ahmed Tibi, offers consumers protection in their dealings with tour companies and airlines. Until now, these companies could move up or delay departures without having to compensate travelers under Israeli law. Now, any traveler affected by such changes can send a letter to the responsible party - the airline or the ticket seller - and demand compensation, as well as a refund on the ticket price. The law advises travelers to work via the travel agent through whom he purchased his tickets in order to receive the compensation mandated by law.

"This is a very important law that makes it not financially worthwhile to delay flights," says Saleit Koler, legal adviser at the Israel Consumer Council. "We hope that now consumers won't need to get compensation, but rather that organizers will understand it doesn't pay to let flights be delayed. This is good news for consumers, and we hope it'll minimize this very common phenomenon." Departures are often delayed or moved up in other countries as well, but "here it seems like things are extreme, particularly when it comes to charter flights," Koler adds.

Since the law relates to the original departure time as it appears on the ticket, customers are advised to save evidence of the departure time listed on the company's website when they purchased the tickets by taking a screen capture. Customers who do not receive compensation within the legislated timeframe can then sue the service provider in small claims court, which can grant them compensation of up to NIS 10,000 without them having to prove damage.

The Israel Consumer Council helped TheMarker prepare the following explanation of the new law and the rights it offers consumers.

Canceled flights and long delays

My flight departs eight hours or more after the time stated on my ticket. What is the compensation?

1. The airline must provide an amount of food and drink commensurate with your waiting time. It must put you up in a hotel if the delay is for one night or longer, provide transportation between the hotel and the airport, and allow you access to email and telephones.

2. You are eligible for cash compensation of between NIS 1,250 and NIS 3,000, depending on the length of the flight. For example, if the flight was up to 4,500 kilometers, then you are eligible for NIS 2,000 in compensation.

3. You are entitled to a refund on your ticket or alternatively to receive a new ticket. However, if you opt for a new ticket, you may receive only half the cash compensation so long as you arrive within six hours of the original scheduled departure (the precise number of hours depends on the distance from the destination ). In the case of longer delays, you are still eligible for the full compensation sum.

Will I receive monetary compensation if my flight is canceled, say, due to another volcanic ash cloud?

No. Service providers do not have to offer compensation if they can prove that the delay is due to something beyond their control and that they did all they could to prevent the cancellation. Factors beyond their control include so-called acts of God and labor strikes.

I was informed of the cancellation in advance. Am I still eligible for compensation?

Not always. If you were offered an alternative flight, you may not receive compensation under certain conditions:

1. If you were informed of the cancellation at least a week before the scheduled departure, and the new departure time is up to an hour before the original scheduled departure and the new arrival time is up to two hours after the original scheduled landing.

2. If you were informed of the cancellation between seven and 14 days before the scheduled departure, and the new departure time is up to two hours before the original scheduled departure and the new arrival time is up to four hours after the original scheduled landing.

3. If you were informed of the cancellation at least 14 days in advance, regardless of when the alternative flight is.

Delays and early departures

The flight took off several hours late. What's my compensation?

It depends on the length of the delay. If the delay is at least two hours, the airline must provide food, drinks and email and phone services. Delays of five to eight hours obligate the airline to offer a refund or a ticket for an alternative flight. If you choose an alternative flight that departs the following day, the airline must also offer lodging and transportation.

If the flight is delayed due to strike action at the airport, am I entitled to compensation?

It depends on the length of the delay. If the delay is at least two hours, the airline must provide food and drinks, and if the delay is between five and eight hours, it must offer a cash refund. It is not obliged to offer an alternative ticket.

My flight's departure was moved up by several hours. What's the compensation?

It depends when you were informed, and by how much the departure time was changed. If you were informed more than 14 days before the departure, the airline does not have to offer you a thing. If you were informed less than 14 days before the flight, and the departure was moved up between five and eight hours, you are eligible for cash compensation based on the length of the flight. For example, you would receive NIS 3,000 if the flight is more than 4,500 kilometers.

Downgrade in seating arrangements

I was seated in a class inferior to the one I originally booked. What's my compensation?

It depends what you booked and where you were ultimately seated. A downgrade from first class to business class entitles you to compensation equal to 60% of your ticket price, while being bumped down to tourist class entitles you to 90%. Being bumped down from first class or business class on a flight of more than 4,500 kilometers entitles you to a full refund.

How is the ticket price calculated in the case of vacation packages?

Since it's difficult to determine how much of the package deal is the ticket cost, the law mandates a predetermined compensation figure of up to NIS 12,500, based on the degree of the downgrade and the length of the flight.

Overbooking

What happens if the flight was overbooked and the airline took me off the flight without my agreement?

1. The airline must provide food and drink commensurate with the length of the delay, a hotel room if the delay is overnight or longer, transportation between the airport and the hotel, and money for phone calls.

2. You are eligible for financial compensation based on the length of the flight. For example, you would receive NIS 3,000 for a flight of more than 4,500 kilometers.

3. You are also entitled to a cash refund on your ticket within 21 days of requesting it. If you do not want a cash refund, you may receive an alternative ticket with the same terms as your original ticket. If you choose the latter option, your cash compensation may be only half the full sum so long as the new flight lands only a few hours after the original flight's arrival time. For example, if you are bumped off a flight of between 2,000 to 4,500 kilometers, you would be eligible for only half the compensation sum, presuming the new flight arrives no more than five hours after the original scheduled arrival.

How is the ticket price calculated in the case of package deals?

Again, the law sets fixed compensation sums depending on the length of the flight. For example, if you are bumped from a flight of up to 4,500 kilometers in tourist class, you would be eligible for NIS 1,500 in compensation.