As much as Americans complain about Spirit and Allegiant--and even major carriers like United Airlines and American Airilnes--there's an airline in Europe that puts the nickel-and-diming here to shame. 

It's Ryanair, the ultra low cost European carrier. And it's facing some difficult times lately.

  • First off, the airline is going through the biggest strike in its 34 year history, and has had to cancel hundreds of flights.
  • Second, it's announced that it's eliminating hundreds of jobs, which it in turn blames on the labor strife. (And its rivals are now reportedly recruiting its pilots and flight attendants.)
  • And third, it's facing a potential liability estimated in the millions by one company, due to a formerly obscure European law that provides recompense for travelers whose flights are delayed.

According to AirHelp, which helps passengers file claims for delayed flights in the European Union, eight days of strikes on Ryanair have resulted in as many as 120,000 passengers who could have claims totaling $39 million.

That's a lot of money. The airline's defense is that the strike qualifies as an "extraordinary occurrence" under European law.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AirHelp says it's not, and that the law applies.

I have no idea who is right. But regular readers will remember that I also had no idea about this European law, EC 261, until it was literally one day too late for me to file a claim.

In 2015, my wife and I were delayed 11 hours on a United flight from Rome to Newark. The deadline for filing a claim is three years. I literally saw a Facebook ad explaining the whole thing three years and one day after our flight.

The total liability we would have had a legitimate claim for? A not-to-be-sneezed-at $1,400.

Of course it was my own fault for not reading my colleague Chris Matyszczyk's very helpful and informative article about the whole thing a few months earlier.

That said, you don't have this excuse. If you were delayed on one of those Ryanair flights--or, and this is important, literally any European flight in the last three years--why not dig up the details?

The fine print on this is that if you're an airline passenger in Europe, and you've been affected by a delay, "airlines must provide [you] with compensation of up to $700 each, in addition to meals and drinks for all delays of more than two hours."

Except for that whole thing about "extraordinary experiences." 

By the way I asked Ryanair for their take on all of this. I'm still waiting, and it's been a few days now.

No word on whether there's another European law that requires compensation if you keep a journalist waiting more than three hours. But if anyone at the EU is reading this, it's not a bad idea.