From June 12th to 24th, NATO troops are rehearsing the emergency in the skies over Germany – air travelers have to expect delays and cancellations.
It is still unclear whether the feared chaos in European air traffic will actually occur or whether problems will only arise in places. However, the NATO exercise Air Defender 23 from June 12th to 24th will certainly not take place without any disruptions for air travelers. After all, 220 military aircraft are taking part in the maneuver and large areas of airspace are temporarily closed.
Passengers planning a flight for the twelve days in question must assume that there will be delays and even cancellations due to the expected crowding in the sky over Europe.
“Incredibly tightly timed”
“It is to be expected that the flight routes of civil aircraft will be impaired,” says Karolina Wojtal from the European Consumer Center Germany (EVZ). “The situation in German airspace is already very tense. Everything is already incredibly tightly timed there.”
At least within the EU, the rights of flight passengers affected by delays or cancellations are clearly regulated. The so-called Air Passenger Rights Regulation applies to all passengers departing from an airport in the EU, as well as to all passengers landing at an airport in the EU if the airline is based in the EU, explains Wojtal. Among other things, the ordinance provides for compensation payments of several hundred euros and defines precise criteria for this.
Air travelers only have a claim against the airline in the case of cancellations or delays notified at short notice, less than 14 days before departure. In addition, the airline does not have to pay compensation if there are extraordinary circumstances that could not have been prevented even if reasonable measures had been taken. “In our opinion, the NATO exercise is likely to involve such exceptional circumstances,” says Wojtal.
Lawyer Paul Degott, who specializes in aviation law, agrees. “The NATO air maneuvers in themselves will certainly be such an extraordinary circumstance that the airlines can invoke in the event of flight irregularities,” he says.
“But then you will also have to explain what you have done reasonably to avoid the flight irregularities from this or to make them less bad for the passengers.” The latter could be the starting point to get a compensation payment from the airline.
The global patchwork of liability regulations
When it comes to passenger rights on flights that do not fall under the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation, there is no general regulation, explains Karolina Wojtal from the EVZ. “There is nothing comparable in the world,” she says.
The so-called Montreal Convention states that airlines are liable for damage caused by delays. However, what this means exactly has not been clarified in detail. Lawyer Degott also points out that airlines are not liable for damage caused by delays in this case either if they prove that all reasonable measures were taken to avoid the damage or that it was not possible to take such measures.
The airline could also exonerate itself by pointing out the extraordinary circumstances that the NATO maneuver represents.
In addition, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), only 72 percent of all countries have ratified the Montreal Convention at all. “As a result, there continues to be a patchwork of liability rules,” according to IATA.
Ultimately, in large parts of the world, it depends on each individual airline which regulations they apply in the event of cancellations and delays, explains Wojtal. Passengers have no choice but to check the general terms and conditions in advance if they want to be sure. “However, a lot is regulated exclusively on a goodwill basis anyway,” she says.
Especially when it comes to catering and support services such as hotel accommodation, drinks and meals while waiting for a delayed flight. In the event of flight cancellations, attempts are usually made to rebook the affected passengers on other flights or to issue vouchers for the next booking.
Wojtal recommends that anyone who thinks that they can cover a possible delay or flight cancellation by taking out insurance should definitely read the small print carefully. Travel cancellation insurance, for example, does not apply in such cases and many insurers exclude liability if the circumstances are extraordinary.
No exercises at night or on weekends
The Air Force, which is leading the large-scale exercise in which 25 NATO member states are taking part, has meanwhile announced that the airspace over Germany will be divided into three sectors, which will be temporarily reserved for military use on the days in question: Airspace East from 10 to 2 p.m., southern airspace from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and northern airspace from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. There should be no exercise at night or on weekends.
It is not yet possible to assess what specific effects this will have, according to Düsseldorf Airport, for example. Simulations by the European organization for the safety of aviation, Eurocontrol, gave rise to the expectation that flight cancellations should not be expected in advance.
“Due to the expected dynamics of this large-scale exercise, which is unique to date, impairments at individual airports or flight routes cannot be ruled out,” said an airport spokesman.