Flight disruption compensation explained

Published by Travel Visa Pro on Tue Feb 25 2020

We all have our airline horror stories. Whether you’re flying domestic for just an hour or planning on an overnight flight to Sydney, disruptions and delays affect every traveler at some point in their life. It’s rare for flights to be delayed while they’re airborne, but problems on the ground can lead to missed flights, extra nights in a hotel, and being trapped somewhere you don’t want to be. When airlines are faced with passengers experiencing delays, what is usually their response?


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Compensation for Flight Cancellations or Delays


When you’re staring at an airline timetable and the notice changes from “on time” to “delayed” or “cancelled”, what can you expect in terms of compensation? Usually, not much.

Substantial delays to flights are considered as grounds for compensation by airlines, but the definition of them is erratic at best. Each airline has their own policy for offering compensation for said delays. For example, some consider giving passengers a voucher for a free night in an airport hotel if your delay lasts well into the night. Shorter delays like those just a few hours long during the day may earn you an airport meal voucher.

Because the cause of these delays may vary from bad weather to a staff change to technical problems with the plane itself, compensation isn’t often forthcoming. When it does come, a substantial delay means passengers can receive a new ticket to their destination (sometimes on another airline) or a full refund. Regardless, these policies can vary considerably based on the airline and the circumstances surrounding the delay. Passengers on US-based airlines aren’t entitled to them so much as given them to avoid unleashing hell on social media. If you had a delay or cancellation with any European airline (from or to the US), then you are entitled to compensation under EC Regulation 261/2004. More information about EU flight compensation can be found here.


Compensation for Flights Overbooked


Bad news first: passengers who are kicked off an oversold flight and delayed by less than one hour rarely receive any form of compensation. However, even with relatively short delays caused by overbooking, airlines are becoming more reluctant to pull passengers off flights. Negative PR campaigns against major airlines only need one minor incident to cost the company millions of dollars in revenue, and forcibly removing a passenger from an overbooked flight certainly qualifies.

An airline typically has to “bump” a passenger when the number of people who arrive at the gate is more than the number of available seats on board, which happens quite often. Employees at the gate (and sometimes on board) usually make an announcement calling for volunteers to accept a later flight in exchange for an airline voucher, or possibly some of the program’s frequent flier miles.

Passengers on international flights rarely get the perks of being overbooked, as airlines are required to provide a certain level of compensation for such flight disruptions. If you should be bumped and land 1-4 hours after your original arrival time on an international flight, you can receive 200% of the original cost of the one-way ticket, up to $675. The same applies to delays of 1-2 hours for domestic flights. If you’re delayed any longer? 400% of the price of the original ticket, up to $1350.


Compensation for Wait Time on the Tarmac


Flight disruptions aren’t limited to time spent staring at the gate or being bumped to a next-day flight. Sometimes you may find yourself trapped on the airport tarmac with your seatback fully upright and locked and your seatbelt fastened for hours. Compensation is never offered when planes are delayed taxiing for takeoff – the airline is fined instead – but passengers do have certain rights in this situation.

According to legislation enforced by The United States Department of Transportation, flights cannot have passengers waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours for domestic flights, and four hours for international ones. The only exception is for matters of security which rarely apply to commercial passengers. After two hours, flight attendants must provide food and water. Once passengers have waited longer than the time limit, they are given the choice of returning to the terminal.

Compensating passengers for delayed or cancelled flights isn’t always pretty, but knowing your rights will ensure you get an optimal outcome for an unpleasant travel situation. Of course, having travel insurance for such disruptions is another good option. When you’re in the market for visa and passport assistance, or just need a recommendation when it comes time for your trip, we hope you’ll choose Travel Visa Pro for all your needs.