Delayed flights can be a traveler’s nightmare, but they may come with compensation options. Whether it’s meal vouchers, hotel stays, or cash, understanding your rights is crucial. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the world of compensation for flight delays, including eligible delay types, compensation in the United States and Europe, the role of travel insurance, and how to claim your entitlements.
Travelers often dread the word “delayed” flashing on the departure board. And, while airlines strive to avoid delays, they remain an unfortunate reality, affecting up to 21.8% of U.S. flights in 2023, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). However, there’s a silver lining: passengers may be eligible for compensation for flight delays, which can include meal vouchers, hotel stays, or even cash refunds.
Types of eligible delays
Flight delays are categorized as controllable or uncontrollable. Controllable delays, such as maintenance issues or crew scheduling problems, are considered within an airline’s control. Uncontrollable delays, also known as extraordinary circumstances, like weather or air traffic delays, are beyond their control. Compensation eligibility varies depending on the type of delay, individual airline policies, and the duration of the delay.
Delays in the United States
The U.S. lacks federal regulations for passenger compensation for delays on domestic flights, leaving it to individual airlines to establish policies. Generally, controllable delays qualify for compensation, but each airline sets its own rules. The Department of Transportation (DOT) provides an Airline Cancellation and Delay Dashboard for reference.
“In the U.S., the compensation will depend on the airline since U.S. airlines aren’t mandated to compensate passengers in case of flight delays,” explains Alexandra Dubakova, travel expert, and CMO at Freetour.com.
Airlines are only required to refund canceled flights if the passenger declines to rebook by the airline. According to federal law, if any airline cancels or suddenly changes your flight, the customer is entitled to a full refund, or they should rebook you on a new flight. If you choose not to rebook, then you should get a refund.”
For most major U.S. airlines, if your flight is delayed for three hours or more, you’re eligible for meal vouchers, while overnight delays may include hotel accommodations and ground transportation. Some airlines offer additional compensation for delays of four hours or more.
Delays in Europe
The European Union (EU) regulates flight delay compensation through EU261. It covers passengers flying within the EU to the EU, on EU-based airlines, or from the EU on any airline. Compensation is typically not provided for uncontrollable reasons, such as weather or strikes.
EU261 offers cash compensation based on the distance of the delayed flight, explains Jen Ruiz, travel expert, travel author, and founder of Jen on a Jet Plane.
“Any flight that goes through Europe, either as a departure or arrival airport, is subject to EU261, a strict regulation that mandates monetary compensation in the event of a delay on a set scale depending on the duration of the delay and length of your flight. EU flight delay regulations are, in my opinion, the most generous, easy to understand, and universally applied regulations of them all.”
Passengers also receive meals for specific delay durations and hotel accommodations if the delay extends to the next day.
Travel insurance coverage
Travel insurance often includes delay coverage, but it varies by policy. Typically, delays must exceed a minimum duration (three hours is common), and compensation is secondary to airline offerings.
It is best to get travel insurance. This way, even if the airline you are flying with doesn’t compensate you, you can be certain your travel insurance will. So, you won’t have to get into a financial ditch over expenses like hotel rooms and rental car services,” says Dubakova.
Credit card travel insurance may also cover delays if the flight was partially paid for with the card. You should check with your travel card issuer before flying to determine your coverage under its travel insurance policy.
How to claim compensation for flight delays
In many cases, airlines will not automatically dispense flight-delayed compensation, so it’s often up to you to request trip delay reimbursement, complimentary hotel accommodations, or other forms of compensation.
If delayed passengers don’t claim compensation at the airport for delayed or canceled flights, you’ll likely need to file a claim with the airline after your trip. Keep in mind that claiming flight delay compensation involves following airline procedures, submitting receipts, or filing online claims.
And be sure to know your rights and stay on top of your claim, advises Ruiz.
“Always get a claim number. Don’t assume that because you discussed something with someone, your claim is processing. Know your rights and be persistent; some airlines can take months to issue your compensation. File a Better Business Bureau complaint or a consumer complaint with the DOT if your request has been repeatedly ignored since this adds a third party, oversight, and deadlines to the matter. ”
Meal vouchers and hotel stays for flight delays
For eligible delays, airlines usually provide meal vouchers and hotel accommodations at the airport. However, long customer service lines may prompt passengers to pay for expenses and seek reimbursement later, subject to airline policies.
EU261 claims for flight delays
Passengers covered by EU261 can claim compensation for meals, lodging, and transportation online. Cash compensation claims are also filed online, with processing times varying.
Reimbursement from travel insurance
Keep receipts from delay-related expenses for travel insurance claims, which are often submitted online or through insurance apps. Processing times vary based on claim approval.
Points or miles
If airlines don’t automatically offer points or miles after a significant delay, filing a complaint might result in bonus rewards. Remember that a delay, though frustrating, is preferable to a canceled flight!
Can I claim weather-related compensation for flight delays?
Compensation for uncontrollable delays like weather varies by airline and region. Refer to your airline’s policies for specifics, but in general most airlines won’t compensate you for delays related to conditions that are out of their control. These “extraordinary circumstances” include weather or air traffic delays, security risks, and other circumstances beyond the airline’s control.
Are there limits on travel insurance compensation?
Yes, travel insurance often has maximum compensation amounts and specific conditions. Review your policy for details. Better yet, review multiple travel insurance policies before you choose the one that makes the most sense for you. Also be sure to check with your travel credit cards to find out if they offer travel insurance and what it does and doesn’t cover.
How long does it take to receive cash compensation?
The processing time for cash compensation claims varies, ranging from days to weeks or months, depending on the airline’s customer service plan and other factors.
- Delayed flight compensation may include meal vouchers, hotel stays, or cash refunds.
- Eligibility for compensation depends on the type of delay (controllable or uncontrollable) and airline policies.
- In the U.S., most major airlines offer meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more, with additional accommodations for overnight delays.
- The EU regulates compensation for delays, with cash compensation based on the distance of the delayed flight.
- Travel insurance coverage for flight delays varies by policy, with limitations on compensation amounts.