After ten airline flight legs with only one mishap (beware any airport named after a Bush), I was starting to think domestic flying around the U.S. in coach wasn’t such a miserable experience after all. Especially since I came through Thanksgiving unscathed. But then last Friday I flew through New York and, as happens almost every time I fly through New York, there were major delays and cancellations. People sleeping on floors, passengers and gate agents yelling at each other, and lines to rebook flights snaking down the hallway. And it hasn’t even started snowing yet…
The woman I sat on the runway with for four hours before taking off had been there since the night before. Her flight was cancelled because the crew had worked too many hours already. Delta didn’t want to offer the passengers any compensation. After a near-riot erupted, the airline relented and ponied up for a hotel and a meal voucher.
Should you find yourself in this situation—and you probably will at some point—it will be good to have the knowledge of what you are owed and when. There’s a pretty exhaustive article on your rights in the current Conde Nast Traveler that runs it all down in detail, for both the U.S. and Europe. In general, if there’s a weather delay or you are bumped off a flight but are not more than one hour late, you’re out of luck. Otherwise, it’s probably time to be pleasant but firm about compensation. You can see the carrier contracts at this rules of the air link.
The odds are pretty good you’ll be dealing with this issue at some point: in the first six months of 2006, 353,274 people voluntarily gave up their U.S. seats in exchange for compensation (including me). According to this article, Delta is the worst, with 18.8 passengers per 10,000 getting bumped. Northwest is next, followed by USAirways—all airlines that are or have recently been in bankruptcy. United and Continental have improved somewhat from 2005, despite greater traffic.
And then there are the delays. European airports with the worst delays are Paris/Orly, Madrid, Larnaca (Cyprus), Manchester, Dublin, Gatwick, Heathrow, Vienna, and Zurich. What–Zurich! Where’s that Swiss efficiency when you need it? The worst ones in the U.S. are Philly, Atlanta, Chicago-Midway, Newark, and Fort Lauderdale. Guess I just keep hitting it wrong at the NYC ones.