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Following up our post outlining methods to get fair compensation from an airline or hotel, we dive into the fundamentals of when you can claim compensation from an airline. We’ll cover the rules and regulations for the US, EU, and international flights outside of these areas, along with additional resources to help you pursue compensation when the normal channels available to you fail.
When Are You Entitled to Compensation From an Airline?
Recent press covering Delta’s forced removal of a passenger after overbooking a flight and BA’s epic IT meltdown, which stranded passengers all over the globe, highlight the need to understand your rights when trying to claim compensation.
Your right to airline compensation also changes depending on the airline you fly, your departure and destination, and whether you are flying domestic or international. In light of the different rules for each country and carrier, we’ve grouped rules by region and the type of flight, in the hope, this makes it easier to understand.
Claiming Compensation on US Domestic Carriers and Flights
Passengers in the US have no blanket protection against delayed or canceled flights like their counterparts in Europe. The US Department of Transport regulations state:
“Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements.”
“Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”
Having said that, you can politely ask airlines to help with food, transport, and accommodation, but it is up to the airline whether they help out. The DOT regulations do cover passengers for tarmac delays of three hours or more, lost or delayed luggage, and if you get bumped from a flight due to overbooking.
- Tarmac delays – Aircraft cannot remain on the tarmac for over three hours unless the pilot determines it’s unsafe to disembark passengers, or air traffic control advises the plane may not return to the gate.
- Involuntary denied – While the rate of involuntary bumping is down to 1/10,000 passengers on domestic flights, with 700 million domestic passengers carried last year, that adds up to tens of thousands of passengers left stranded at the gate. If you are involuntarily bumped from a domestic flight you’re entitled to:
- 0 to 1-hour arrival delay: No compensation
- 1 to 2-hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $675)
- Over 2-hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1350)
Claim Compensation on International Flights from the US
US laws are the same for International flights with no federal requirements for delayed or canceled flights leaving the US. The same rules covering domestic flights apply to international ones with different time and compensation limits. International flights leaving the US are, however, covered by the Montreal Convention which we’ll dig into below.
- Tarmac delays – Aircraft cannot remain on the tarmac for more than four hours unless the pilot determines it’s unsafe to disembark passengers, or air traffic control advises the plane may not return to the gate.
- Involuntary denied boarding – International passengers can claim the following compensation if they get bumped from a flight due to overbooking.
- 0 to 1-hour arrival delay: No compensation
- 1 to 4-hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $675)
- Over 4-hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1350)
The Montreal Convention covers passengers flying between 125 member countries, which includes the US, against losses or damages caused by delayed or canceled flights (including lost or delayed luggage). If the only consequence of a flight delay or cancellation is that it's inconvenient, that on its own will not be enough to enact the Montreal Convention, there must be losses from items such as pre-booked accommodation, connecting flights, car rentals or the like.
The compensation amount claimable under the Montreal Convention is not issued in $, £, or €, rather it’s issued in Special Drawing Rights, a currency issued by the IMF. At the time of writing, 1 SDR is worth US$1.38. If the airline is found liable for the loss or damage, passengers can claim up to 4,694 SDR, or $6,477.
Note: The Montreal Convention applies to all international flights between member countries, but not within those countries unless the flight has a stopover in another country en-route, so won't cover domestic flights.
Claim Compensation on Flights Departing or Within the EU
European Union legislation (EC261) covers flights between EU member countries, within member countries, departing member countries, and flights on EU licensed carriers flying into the EU. Flights must be delayed by a minimum 3 hours for compensation to kick in, and the affected itinerary falls under a single reservation.
Causes for delays or cancellations can’t involve extraordinary circumstances such as severe weather events, airline flight staff striking, medical emergencies, war, and a whole host of things outside the airline’s control. The short of it is; if the airline is at fault, and your claim is legit, it's highly likely you qualify for compensation.
In Europe, airlines are also obliged to take care of you while you wait for passage on another aircraft, with the following stipulated:
- Accommodation (if you are rebooked to travel the next day)
- Transport to your accommodation and return to the airport
- 2 telephone calls, telex, fax messages or emails
Compensation for delays and involuntarily denied boarding is based on the distance flown and origin of the flight.
- €250 – 1,500 km or less
- €400 – 1,500+ km within the EU and all other flights between 1,500 & 3,500 km
- €600 – 3,500+ km
If the carrier offers you re-routing and you reach your final destination with a delay of 2, 3, or 4 hours, the compensation may be reduced by 50%. You can find all the relevant information on claiming compensation on Europa.eu, or download the claim form directly.
Compensation for flight cancellations is more complicated still. It is based on when you are notified of the cancellation, if the airline re-routes you on a different flight, and what time you arrive at your destination. The distances and compensation amounts remain the same, but when you’re notified of the change, and when you arrive at your destination are also factored into the re-routing requirements. You won't receive compensation if you are:
- Notified more than 14 days in advance
- Notified between 2 weeks and 7 days before scheduled departure and re-routing allows you to depart no more than 2 hours before the original departure and reach final destination less than 4 hours after the originally scheduled time of arrival
- Notified less than 7 days before the scheduled departure re-routing allows you to depart no more than 1 hour before the original departure and reach your final destination less than 2 hours after the originally scheduled time of arrival.
Confused yet? It’s a lot to take in. If you’re struggling to make sense of it and want a quick answer, head to the Europa.eu link above and follow the directions. It offers a quick run down on if you qualify for compensation or not.
Can't Wrap Your Head Around Claiming Compensation?
The different rules and regulations for each region and carrier are enough to give you a headache at the best of times. If you can’t wrap your head around the legislation or you don’t have the time available to go through the process, you can hand over all the details to AirHelp, and have them do all the heavy lifting.
They will check whether your delay or cancellation warrants compensation, contact the airline directly on your behalf, negotiate a settlement, and if necessary, take the airline to court! AirHelp's Service Fee is 25% of the settlement they reach with the airline, the service is straightforward, and if they don’t win, you don’t pay.
Take Advantage of the Travel Insurance Offered by Your Credit Card
We’ve covered this in previous posts so won’t rehash the information in detail, but the majority of premium travel rewards credit cards come with complimentary travel insurances like Trip Delay Reimbursement, Trip Interruption/Cancellation Insurance, Primary Rental Car CDW, and Baggage Delay/Lost Baggage Insurance. This includes some of our favorite travel focused credit cards.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
- Citi Prestige® Card
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
Ensure you use the right card to pay for your flights, or your award taxes & fees, and you could be flying with some of the best airline travel insurance available!
Knowing when to claim compensation from an airline is an essential part of the rewards travel puzzle. If the worst you suffered was a late arrival, a changed flight, and a little inconvenience then trying to claim compensation may not be in your best interest and is unlikely to get through. If you suffered financial losses due to a delayed or canceled flight, and the airline is squarely in the wrong, you have a valid basis to claim.
As always, we’d love to know your thoughts on this topic. It can be tricky to wrap your head around, so if you have any questions, please reach out in the comments.
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