My Flight Was Held Up, Do I Get a Refund?

If you were one of the 1,500 passengers affected by the jet-fuel crisis, you might like to know what your legal rights are regarding compensation.

The main question passengers affected by Thursday's fuel crisis at Ben-Gurion Airport are asking is whether they will receive compensation for flights that were canceled or delayed. We hope the following will shed some light on the matter.

Who was affected by the crisis?

Ben Gurion airport, passengers
Ofer Vaknin

Around 1,500 passengers: El Al canceled around 20 flights, Arkia canceled domestic flights and delayed outgoing foreign flights, and Israir scrapped one flight to Rome, held up one to Berlin and laid on buses to replace the domestic flights it canceled.

Foreign flights were delayed by a number of hours. In some cases the flight itself was longer due to an unscheduled refueling stop in Cyprus, Jordan or other nearby states.

Are passengers on canceled flights eligible for a refund?

El Al, Arkia and Israir have already said they will refund customers for the full cost of their airfare. That doesn't include reimbursement for expenses, such as hotel stays or any other monetary loss incurred as a result of the missed flight. El Al announced it would fly any passenger whose flight was canceled to their original destination, or another destination in the same region, this week. No foreign airlines actually canceled flights as a result of the temporary refueling ban, so their passengers are not eligible for refunds.

What does the law say about compensation in such cases?

"There's no law regarding compensation to passengers for delays of a few hours," said Einat Bracha, legal counsel for Emun Hatzibur (Public Trust ), a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. "Our recommendation is to go to your travel agency and request compensation for what happened, but the agency has no legal obligation to provide compensation. Customers always have the right to sue the travel agency in a small claims court, but the outcome will depend on how the court views the situation. It could be that one person's claim is approved and someone else's is not," Bracha said.

Is a class action suit already in the works over this?

"Class action suits are quite common in cases where a relatively large group of people is affected," Bracha said, "and it's reasonable to assume that this case will be no different. The lawyers are probably waiting for the results of the lab tests in order to determine who to go after."

If it can be determined that force majeure was not involved, then class action suits will probably be filed and the courts will have to address the matter. A few lawyers could clearly be seen at Ben-Gurion during the crisis, taking phone numbers from passengers whose flights had been canceled, with an eye to future class actions.

Airport officials say everything will be sorted out by Wednesday, but how will the fuel crisis affect passengers between now and then?

Flights are taking off from Ben-Gurion with enough fuel to get them to airports in neighboring states, where they fill up and continue to their destinations. That makes the journey longer, and you should take this into consideration if you have to make a connection at the other end.

What about incoming flights?

Most of them are also being forced to make unscheduled refueling stops en route to Israel in order to expedite their departure from Ben-Gurion, which means that these flights will also take longer than scheduled.