There’s no doubt air travel has advanced considerably over the years, but it can still be a nightmare for many passengers. Only last week, hordes of travelers found their holidays and business trips spoilt as superstorm Sandy caused thousands of US flights to be cancelled. About two years ago, a volcanic eruption in Iceland delayed and cancelled European Union (EU) flights.

Flight delays and cancellations can cause undue financial losses to customers and it pays to be aware of your rights as a flyer. Airlines will sometimes grant cash, free ticket, refund or re-booking, hotel stay; free meals and refreshments.

However, since carriers are governed by various regulatory bodies, there is no clear-cut rule that applies to all passengers. It’s even possible that two passengers in the same flight are entitled to be compensated under two different legal regimes.

Consumer rights generally depend on the circumstances, the point of origin and destination, nationality of the airline, length of delay or even the distance between the origin and destination points. Emirates, Etihad or any non-EU airline may be governed by EU rules if they’re flying to or from Europe, or by other international conventions called Warsaw or Montreal, if they’re flying elsewhere.

Your best bet is to familiarize yourself with the basic regulations in your arrival or departure destinations before boarding the plane and comb through the fine print of your ticket.

When sought for comment, Emirates Airlines did not provide specific policies, however, it advised customers to check the airline’s booking terms and conditions, and the “various websites related to the country or region to where they are flying”.

The airline stated that it operates “in accordance with the regulations stipulated by the appropriate governing, regulatory and aviation bodies” and that each circumstance may be different for every passenger.

Qatar Airlines, however, confirmed that there are cases where they refund a passenger or provide free hotel stay, food and transportation. For example, if their flights from Dubai to the UK/US or vice versa are cancelled, they will grant a refund, provided “this falls within the latest airline commercial policy applicable to the disruption”.

If the same flights encounter substantial delays of, say, five hours or longer, the airline will provide free hotel accommodation, transportation and food. “This is part of the airline’s duty of care,” says a company spokesperson.

Etihad Airways’ general conditions of carriage posted on its website states that if they cancel a flight, fail to operate reasonably according to schedule, among others, a passenger may get a refund, the amount of which will depend on certain conditions.

Gulf News attempts to answer some questions about consumer rights in flight cancellations and delays based on accounts of legal and aviation sources:

What if my flight from Dubai is delayed?

This will depend on the carrier and destination. Based on EU regulations, passengers encountering flight delays with an EU carrier or any airline flying to and from an EU airport are entitled to meals, refreshments and telephone calls. If the flight is delayed overnight, they will be entitled to hotels and respective transfers to and from the airport. If there is a delay of over five hours, they will get a reimbursement.

If a UAE-based passenger who booked a return ticket with an EU carrier encounters a significant delay in his Dubai to London flight, may claim a reimbursement. If it was a Dubai-London-New York flight and the delay had taken place in the London-New York leg, the passenger could opt to go back from London to Dubai at the expense of the carrier and be reimbursed for the whole ticket purchased, if the purpose of the trip had been frustrated with the delay.

What about delays involving non-EU carriers flying outside EU?

Pursuant to the Montreal convention, a passenger encountering serious delays in his flight via a Middle Eastern carrier is entitled to a maximum of 4,150 drawing rights, equivalent to more than Dh24,000. This limit is waived in case of carrier’s gross negligence or willful misconduct. The airline may not be held liable for damage if it’s established that it took all necessary measures to avoid the damage or that it was impossible to take such measures.

What happens if my flight from Dubai is cancelled?

For passengers aboard EU carriers and any airline irrespective of its nationality flying to or from an EU airport, they are entitled to the following in case of flight cancellation:

• Reimbursement and return flight to first point of departure or re-routing (under comparable transport conditions) to their final destination

• Meals and refreshments and two telephone calls/fax/email and (if overnight until the new flight)hotel accommodation and transfers (if cancellation is communicated to the passengers when they are already at the airport)

• Compensation in a certain amount depending on the length of the flight to the final destination which varies between 250 euros to 600 euros.

What about cancellations involving a UAE airline or other non-EU carriers flying outside EU?

Check the terms and conditions with the airline. When travel is disrupted after a non-European carrier originating from UAE canceled a flight, there seems to be no clear remedy, unless otherwise stated in the terms and conditions of the contract of carriage that the passenger had entered into or established by the applicable national law.

What circumstances will forfeit a passenger’s right to compensation?

If the flight is cancelled or delayed due to “extraordinary circumstances” beyond the control of the carrier, the passenger is not entitled to a compensation. Airlines can dodge compensation claims when disruptions are caused by circumstances that could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken such as political instability, typhoon, bomb threat, strike and air traffic management decisions.

If I have a travel insurance, will I get compensated for delays and cancellations?

Depending on the insurance plan, you can get compensated for flight delay/cancellation or curtailment of trip, according to Anand Majmudar, associate manager of Gargash Insurance. An insurance covers a 12-hour delay for $50 and a trip cancellation for up to $5,000.