Passenger Rights: The 10 Things Every Flyer Should Know

Flight delay? Here’s exactly what you’re owed.

August 9, 2018 9:00 am

Turns out cheap flights are pretty easy to come by now. As are flight delays.

No matter what the airlines tell you, you deserve compensation.

Which is where AirHelp comes in.

We’re big fans of AirHelp, the passenger-rights company we once dubbed “the Robin Hood of air travel.” Basically, if your luggage is lost or your flight gets delayed or canceled, AirHelp will figure out what money you’re owed and sue the airlines to get it back.

But this isn’t just due process for the current flight you’re stuck on: in 2018, AirHelp added a feature so you could check for compensation for on flights from up to three years back.

According to the company, AirHelp has helped more than seven million people process airline compensation claims worth almost $930 million in total reimbursement since its launch in 2013. For its troubles, the service takes a 25% cut.

This week, AirHelp launched Passenger Rights Awareness Month to “actively educate passengers on their rights.” With help from company CEO Henrik Zillmer — along with our own diligent research and some thoughts from co-founder Stan Sandberg  — we put together the 10 things you should know as a frustrated airline passenger, from where to fly to your legal rights.

1. If you’re gonna get screwed on a flight, it really helps if that flight is going to or from Europe or Canada.

Our neighbors to the north just launched the Transportation Modernization Act, a regulation to dictate how air passengers are treated on airlines flying within, to or from Canada. It hopefully will be similar to the European law, EC 261/2004, which pretty much makes the airlines legally and financially responsible for flight issues (see no. 6 below).

2. You probably don’t know your rights as a passenger.

A recent survey of 2,062 U.S.-based passengers by AirHelp suggests that 75% of air travelers feel “uninformed” about their rights, and less than 10% actually know their rights.

3. … And not knowing is costing you. A lot.

AirHelp estimates 13 million eligible passengers leave about $6 billion in travel compensation unclaimed every year. And less than 25% of passengers on a disrupted flight in the U.S. actually file a claim. According to Zillmer, 415,800 passengers in the U.S. are owed $292 million in compensation from the airlines for just the first six months of this year, nearly 60% more than the same period in 2017.

4. There’s a lot you can do before (and after) you get on a flight to help you get money back.

“Hold onto all travel documents, including the boarding pass and airport receipts,” says AirHelp’s  Zillmer. “You can show proof of extra expenses incurred as a result of the delay, as you may be able to get reimbursed.” And when your flight is delayed, Ziillmer says “you should immediately ask why.” The more specific the reason the airline gives for the disruption, the better it is for your compensation claim.

5. If you’re flying to/from the EU, you’re entitled to up to $700.

That’s for delayed or canceled flights, or when denied boarding. Note: The departure airport must be in the EU, or the carrier must be based in the EU and landing in the EU. You have three years to claim what’s owed you.

6. Depending on which service you sue, compensation can be a long process.

As our favorite travel blog The Points Guy noted last year, it took a long time to get back money from a delayed 2012 Lufthansa flight — a claim filed in August 2015 took six months (granted, the author used a different service than AirHelp).

7. Some airlines are better than others in helping you get money back.

Every year, AirHelp releases the AirHelp Score to rate the world’s best and worst airlines on claims processing (as well as quality of service and on-time performance). So, planning ahead, you may want to look at flying Air Transat or (surprise!) American Airlines. In The Points Guy article we mentioned above, Zillmer points out that low-cost carriers like Ryanair, not the big airlines, are most likely to “make the most trouble” when it comes to compensation.

8. “Act of God” is the airlines’ favorite excuse.

Storms and medical emergencies make the airline exempt. They actually call them “extraordinary circumstances.” So does political unrest, and in 2018 that means … uh oh.

9. The U.S. does offer a few travel advantages.

While U.S. passenger laws are far weaker than international laws for flight delays, they are beneficial when it comes to tarmac delays, boarding denials (for, say an oversold flight and your new flight is over an hour later) and lost, damaged, or delayed luggage — for that, you’re entitled to compensation of up to $3,500. “Hold onto all baggage receipts and keep a list of items in checked baggage, as this will help support their case in filing a compensation claim,” says Zillmer.

10. For all other matters beyond delays, you should consider travel insurance.

“Travel insurance can cover some costs airlines typically won’t cover,” says Stan Sandberg, co-founder of the travel insurance marketplace “In general, travel insurance will cover any of your non-refundable, prepaid costs that you’d be subject to lose…such as an unexpected illness or severe weather. While they may be sympathetic, airlines typically won’t cover your lost airfare if you cancel or change your tickets unexpectedly. For extended delays due to weather or airline breakdowns, trip delay coverage in most travel insurance plans will cover your hotels, meals and additional transportation costs. Some plans will also cover the cost of change fees, itinerary changes, and fees associated with redepositing unused awards travel points.” For a trip cancellation plan, expect a cost that can range from 4%-8% of the total trip costs.

Bonus: If you’re trying to squeeze a few more bucks from the airlines, a few suggestions:


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