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If you’re a frequent flier, chances are at some point in your travels you’ve experienced a significant flight delay, or worse, you’ve gotten bumped from a flight you were booked on. It’s a common story, brought on by such circumstances as mechanical issues with the plane, insufficient staff available for the aircraft, or a substantially overbooked flight. It can be a frustrating experience that can leave you feeling helpless and abandoned. But what you probably don’t know is that when this happens, you may be owed compensation from the airline for your inconvenience, and sometimes that compensation can be a substantial amount of money.
A little-known U.S. law entitles passengers to receive compensation on flights in which they are delayed or bumped, although according to a recent article from Reuters, only about 2% of travelers ever try to collect on what they are owed. The amount of money that needs to be payed depends on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight. Similar rules are in place for the European Union as well, so flights on carriers in that market must also provide compensation to passengers that face long delays or get bumped as well.
In theory, the airlines are suppose to provide information on how to collect the money immediately after they bump the passengers, but at times they fail to do so. The Reuters article points out that last year, Delta Airlines was fined $750,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for not adhering to those rules. Complicating things further, if an airline offers vouchers and hotel rooms to bumped passengers, and they accept, it can often invalidate any compensation claims. It is also important to point out, that the airlines are not held responsible for flight delays due to bad weather. Those are considered circumstances beyond their control, and flights are often grounded for the safety of those on board.
The instructions for how to file a claim in the U.S., as well as the necessary forms, are available at the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the DOT. In The EU, that same information can be found on the Passenger Rights webpage. Alternatively, if you’d rather not hassle with the claims yourself, you can use a service such as Refund.me or AirHelp, which do most of the work for you, and charge you a fee for collecting the cash directly from the airlines.
Unfortunately, in Canada the rules aren’t so straightforward. Despite efforts to create a “Passengers Bill of Rights” in recent years, there are no official rules from the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) governing how much compensation an airline must pay to passengers that they delay for extended periods of time, or bump from their flights altogether. Instead, the airlines are left to decide for themselves how much they will offer, which is often less than what is offered passengers in similar situations in the U.S. or the EU. The CTA does offer consumers some advice however, stressing the importance of reading the fine print of their ticking information, which is, in essence, a contract with the airline.
The important thing for all travelers to take away from this story, is that when you find yourself facing a long delay, or potentially getting bumped from your flight, you do have rights, and in most cases, the airlines must compensate you for the inconvenience. Collecting on the compensation that is due to you in those situations is actually surprisingly easy, and it doesn’t take long to receive the funds. In some cases, you can even receive the money from the airline the very same day. But, in order to collect, it is important to know your rights in the first place.