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Earlier today, my wife was supposed to fly from Hamburg to Porto, with a stop in Madrid (purchased on the same booking from the airline, one way). She arrived at the airport in plenty of time (around two hours before boarding was scheduled), but there was a major disruption, which included the airport being closed and all departures stopped. Her flight departed later than planned, but as a result of the extremely long queues she had not yet passed security when the status changed from “boarding” and the flight disappeared from the departures screen. As she was near the front of the security line, she continued through and to her gate in the hopes of still making it. Once there, she found many other passengers in the same situation.

The flight was operated by Iberia, and an Iberia staff member led the large group of frustrated passengers to the Iberia desk, but after waiting for some time there was no sign of any further help or support being provided and she decided to travel home.

She received an email from Iberia informing her that she has been rebooked onto a flight via London - due to her nationality, she cannot transit (even airside) in the UK without a visa, so this rerouting is not a valid option for her. She has already called Iberia and they were unable to offer any suitable alternative routings before the 4th (she returns on the 5th, on a separate ticket).

She has already found alternative travel arrangements with a different airline. The ideal scenario would be for a refund of the Iberia ticket. Is that something she can demand? More generally, what rights does she have in this situation?

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    The airline didn’t do anything wrong. You can ask for a refund, and they may oblige however they’re not obligated to. If you purchased it with a credit card you should dispute it if they don’t offer a refund. I assume in this particular case they will be accommodating since it was a well documented problem. Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 22:26
  • I agree that they’re most probably not obligated to anything and it’s already a nice effort on their part to have proactively rebooked the passenger. I doubt very much a refund can be obtained, and a chargeback is most probably unjustified. They would probably be willing to offer a voucher for future travel, though. They may go further if they have any form of additional (voluntary) commitment/guarantee. And of course travel insurance (bought from them, bought separately or included with your credit card) should be claimed against.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 23:17
  • Did your wife manage to get a refund/travel voucher from this in the end?
    – Uciebila
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 15:30
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    No, we didn't chase it any further. Not least because when I looked into it she was mistaken and she is eligible for airside transit without visa after all, so the flight they offered her would have been fine... unfortunately I'd taken her word for it on that at the time.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 16:25
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    "may oblige however they’re not obligated to. If you purchased it with a credit card you should dispute it if they don’t offer a refund" Those two statements contradict. If the airline is not obligated to give a refund the credit card company isn't going to take money away from them, unless you've got some kind of insurance that covers it. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 17:17

1 Answer 1

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Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, but given our long tradition of laypeople interpreting complex legal texts, I'm going to try hard to sound nearly as confident as ChatGPT while having roughly the same level of real expertise in the subject matter.

You should be entitled to a refund if you came to the airport early enough.

My reading of our trusty Regulation 261/2004 says this situation should be covered and the airline should thus be obligated to offer you a choice of re-routing or a full refund.

The Regulation applies when: (emphasis mine everywhere)

  1. This Regulation establishes, under the conditions specified herein, minimum rights for passengers when:

(a) they are denied boarding against their will;

(j) "denied boarding" means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, although they have presented themselves for boarding under the conditions laid down in Article 3(2), except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation;

OK, so as long as you fulfil the conditions of Article 3(2), you should be covered by the passenger rights defined in the Regulation. That article defines your obligations like this:

Article 3

(Snipped Paragraph 1 which defines the well known geographical scope of the Regulation to flights somehow involving the EU.)

  1. Paragraph 1 shall apply on the condition that passengers:

(a) have a confirmed reservation on the flight concerned and, except in the case of cancellation referred to in Article 5, present themselves for check-in,

  • as stipulated and at the time indicated in advance and in writing (including by electronic means) by the air carrier, the tour operator or an authorised travel agent,

or, if no time is indicated,

  • not later than 45 minutes before the published departure time; or

So this IMHO says as long as you arrive at the airport by the check-in deadline specified by the airline, any further unforeseen delays are not your fault. You as the traveller don't have any contractual relationship with the airport, only with the airline. It is thus up to the airline to take care of you (and they can then probably go after the airport for a refund of their costs, but that's none of your business).

An incident like the one described in your question is however likely a typical case of "exceptional circumstances", so I think you won't be eligible for additional compensation (on top of reimbursement/rerouting and general care).

So personally, if I had any proof that I was at the airport long enough in advance, I would just demand a refund under the Regulation, and once the airline inevitably refuses, escalate it to the applicable national authority.

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