I fought the law and I won

Know your rights; too often, the airlines “fail” to mention the law.

KLM airplane 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
KLM airplane 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mrs. Mizrahi wrote to me asking me for help. Her son had fallen in love with a new immigrant and, as many young couples are wont to do, decided to get married in the spring. As Sandy, our young ingénue from Atlanta, had no family in Israel, it was decided that the nuptials would be exchanged in Atlanta.
Starting the process to get US visas for the Israelis was no simple task, and shopping around for several tickets to Atlanta in the spring also proved time-consuming.
Fortunately for them, Sandy had a friend in a large travel agency in Tel Aviv who patiently sent them several options. Finally, six tickets were purchased for May and paid for in full, and the planning for the event moved forward.
Unfortunately, what is often planned can be put asunder, and as the cold weather descended throughout Israel, Sandy had a change of heart and called off the wedding. Her timing couldn’t have been worse, as it transpired only one week after the Mizrahis paid their travel consultant over $7,400 in cash.
The travel consultant, while sympathetic to their plight, had been forthright when the tickets were purchased; explaining in full detail that the cancellation fee was $240 per ticket or $1,440 for the entire family.
Asking to speak to the manager of the travel agency, Mizrahi was told that the information had been given both orally and by email and that nothing could be done to minimize the hefty cancellation fees.
I am contacted quite often with puzzles and challenges; none have been easier than this one was to solve.
I wrote back to Mrs. Mizrahi explaining that in Israel we have a consumer protection law that states quite clearly that a transaction may be cancelled within 14 days, provided it’s at least 18 working days prior to the beginning of the trip. (In this case they had paid in February for tickets for May) This right of cancellation does not apply on tourism services that wholly take place outside of Israel. So an Easy Jet Flight from London to Paris or a Southwest ticket from LA to Las Vegas is not covered if you have to cancel. The rule is that the airline or tourism package must originate from inside Israel.
If the above conditions are met, the consumer will be charged five percent of the total price of the ticket, or NIS 100, whichever is lower. When I told her that the most the agency could charge her was NIS 600, she contacted the agency. The following morning, she was refunded the full amount minus NIS 600, and later that day I found a lovely bottle of wine on my desk.
Know your rights; too often, the airlines “fail” to mention the law. Many travel consultants have also forgotten about the law. Very little noise has been made about this and, in all honesty, expecting the airlines not to behave superciliously would be naive.
THE SPRING and summer seasons are approaching, and the skies and the airport terminals will be full.
Airlines do overbook; connections will be missed.
The Israeli Consumer Council offers explanations of your rights that the airlines would prefer you don’t know:
Sima’s flight departs 8 hours after the time stated on her ticket. What is her compensation? 1. The airline must administer food and drink commensurate with her waiting time. They must put her up in a hotel if the delay is overnight or longer, must provide transportation between the hotel and the airport and allow her access to email and telephones.
2. She is eligible for hard cash compensation of between $350 and $800, depending upon the length of the flight. Her flight distance was about 4,500 kilometers, so she was eligible for $540.
3. She could have gotten a full refund on her ticket or asked for a new ticket and still received cash compensation.
If she opted for a new ticket, the cash compensation would be lowered.
Will I receive cash compensation if my flight is canceled because of, say, another Hurricane Sandy? No. Airlines and service providers do not have to offer compensation if they can prove that the delay is due to something beyond their control and they did everything they could to prevent the cancellation.
Weather delays fall under the category of “Acts of God,” as do labor strikes.
Koby was informed of his flight cancellation in advance. Is he still eligible for compensation? Not always. He was offered an alternative flight, so he may not receive compensation under certain conditions:
1.If he was informed of the cancellation at least a week before the scheduled departure, the new departure time is no more than an hour before the originally scheduled departure and the new arrival time is no more than two hours after the originally scheduled landing.
2.If he was informed of the cancellation between seven and 14 days before the scheduled departure, the new departure time is no more than two hours before the originally scheduled departure and the new arrival time is no more than four hours after the originally scheduled landing.
3.If he was informed of the cancellation at least 14 days in advance, regardless of the when the alternative flight is scheduled for.
Barbara’s flight took off several hours late. What is her compensation? It depends on the length of the delay. Once the delay is at least two hours long, the airline must provide food, drinks and email and phone services. After five hours, the airline is obligated to offer a refund or a ticket for an alternative flight. If you opt for an alternative flight that departs the following day, the airline must also offer hotel accommodations and transportation.
If the delay is due to a strike at the airport, is Barbara entitled to compensation? 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 obligated to offer an alternative ticket.
Travelers are also entitled to compensation if their flight’s departure is moved forward by several hours.
Similar to the table of delayed departures, the amount one is eligible for is tied to the length of the flight.
What happens if a 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.
3.You are entitled to a cash refund on your ticket within 21 days of requesting it.
Too often, airlines offer clients credit that can be used for future travel and that often cannot even be transferred. Know your rights – the airlines are obliged to give you cash! Understand, as well, that airport employees are often under intense pressure and rarely see the entire picture. If you are bumped from one flight and put on another, the airline clerk may fail to look at the rest of your itinerary. This can result in the computer cancelling the rest of your flights, since you “missed” your original flight. Always make sure that you verify your entire itinerary and demand an updated e-ticket.
To paraphrase Forrest Gump: “Travelling is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” The least you can do is to know your rights.
The author is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.