From June 12 to June 23, the largest air military exercise in NATO history will take place in Germany. During this time, hundreds of military aircraft from different countries will be operating over Germany. As a result, airspace in certain regions will be closed to civilian aircraft, which may result in restrictions for air travelers. We explain the rights of affected air travelers below.
What is the NATO exercise “Air Defender 2023” all about?
“Air Defender 23” is a joint NATO exercise in which pilots and crews from 18 different nations take part. Over 220 aircraft and up to 10,000 soldiers are involved in this exercise. The USA alone will move more than 100 aircraft to four locations in Germany. The main objective of this exercise is to prepare for possible crisis situations and to be able to react accordingly. Unfortunately, civil air traffic will be restricted due to this exercise. During the military activities, there will be no civilian flight activities in the north, south, and east air training areas for about two hours a day. To ensure safety, these areas will also be closed just before and after the two hours. In order to avoid possible restrictions, civil airlines are asked to fly around these areas on a large scale. This is to ensure that the airspace is kept completely clear.
What rights do air travelers have if their flights are canceled or postponed due to the NATO exercise?
If their own flight is canceled due to the NATO exercise, travelers have the choice of receiving alternative transportation or getting the ticket costs back. If the airline does not offer an alternative connection, passengers can choose a connection themselves, including a train journey. The costs can then be claimed from the airline. If a replacement flight is not available until the next day, the airline must organize accommodation in a hotel and transport to it. If your flight is delayed for more than two hours, you are entitled to a free meal and drink.
Do air travelers also have a right to compensation under the European Air Passenger Rights Regulation?
In principle, according to the European Air Passenger Rights Regulation, passengers are also entitled to compensation of between 250 and 600 euros in the event of flight delays or cancellations. These compensations exist when passengers arrive at their destination more than three hours later than scheduled or when their flight was canceled less than 14 days before departure. However, airlines can exempt themselves from the obligation to pay if they can prove that the cancellation of the flight or its arrival three hours or more late is due to extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. An extraordinary circumstance is therefore a circumstance that is not part of the normal activities of the airline and is also not actually within its control.
The NATO exercise “Air Defender 2023” is neither part of the normal activities of the airlines nor controllable and is therefore an extraordinary circumstance. However, the airlines still have to prove that they have taken all reasonable measures to avoid a delay or cancellation due to the NATO exercise or to keep the negative consequences as low as possible. In the case of delays associated with the NATO exercise, it can be assumed that in most cases the airlines have no choice but to follow the instructions of air traffic control and have no other options for reducing delays. Since the NATO exercise “Air Defender 2023” only blocks airspace in very short time windows of a few hours, it should definitely be possible for the airlines to transport passengers to their final destination on the same day.
However, if passengers were only offered rebookings to much later flights, perhaps even the next day by their chosen airline, there is definitely the possibility of enforcing a claim for compensation. Since the airlines knew about the NATO exercise months in advance and could have planned the flight plan in such a way that there was little or no delay due to the exercise, the chances of success for compensation are favorable. The airlines themselves had it in their own hands to inform affected passengers in good time, i.e. more than 14 days in advance, of the cancellation or rebooking. If passengers are informed about the flight cancellation more than 14 days in advance, the airline no longer has to pay compensation.
How can Flightright help with other emerging flight issues?
In the event of flight problems caused by the upcoming NATO exercise, travelers have the choice of whether they want to receive alternative transport or a refund of the ticket costs. If air travelers opt for a ticket refund, Flightright helps to enforce their ticket costs against the airline. If the airline does not offer an alternative connection, passengers can choose a connection themselves, including a train journey. The costs can then be claimed from the airline. Flightright also helps here, so that air travelers are not left with the much higher costs of a replacement flight booked at short notice.
Consumers can simply enter the old and new ticket prices at flightright.com/ticket-refund. Flightright competently and successfully enforces these claims for affected air travelers with the airlines. Since the NATO exercise is an exceptional circumstance, there is little prospect of a lump-sum compensation payment of up to 600 euros. However, according to EU law, passengers are entitled to compensation of between 250 and 600 euros for many other flight problems that may arise this summer, provided they arrive at their destination more than three hours late or their flight was canceled less than 14 days before departure. These claims can be asserted retrospectively within three years and regardless of the ticket price. This also applies to 1 euro flights. No disadvantages arise from the assertion of claims.