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Terrible Flight Delays? You May Score Some Compensation


When I returned from a conference a couple weeks ago, it took me ten hours to get from Cancun to Leon/Guanajuato in the middle of Mexico. Mechanical problems got us kicked off the plane as we were ready to take off in Mexico City and we sat around the airport for hours. I got a $12 meal voucher and a stale pastry out of the deal from Aeromexico.

If I had been in Europe, it would have been a different story. I could have hooked up with and gotten a significant chunk of money back.

In the United States the airlines fight every move the government makes to bring transparency to the industry, whether it’s seeing how much your flight really costs up front, with all the fees, or seeing what your rights really are when your plane gets delayed by factors other than weather. It’s not any better in the rest of North America either.

In Europe, however, passengers have more rights and the rules in one part of the EU apply to the other parts as well. So if you have a problem there, you could be owed compensation. Actually getting that compensation handed over is a different story, however, as no business wants to give out checks for screwing up if they can possibly avoid it. That’s where FlightRight comes, in, fighting on your behalf to get you what you’re owed. They say they have a 96% success rate in cases they accept. You can see some example cases here, with amounts won ranging from $175 to thousands of dollars. Here’s one example of a big one:

Family S. books four return tickets with airline C. from Frankfurt to Toronto (Canada) and back. The return flight is scheduled to depart at 16.20 pm. After check-in family S. is informed that the flight has been cancelled due to a technical fault. Family S. is handed back their luggage and taken to a hotel.

The following day family S. is re-routed to a flight with the same flight number. Family S. lands in Frankfurt 25 hours later than originally planned.

Family S. is entitled to compensation of $3,280 ($820 per passenger).

Whoa, that’s some serious cash!

This was made possible by EU 261, a passengers’ rights law applying to airline cancellations, delays, and overbookings. It was passed ten years ago, but most non-Europeans have no idea what their rights are when flying in or to/from Europe. You can do some digging around online from your uncomfortable seat if you’re lucky enough to be in an airport with good free Wi-Fi, but it’s doubtful you’re going to get a harried airline worker to hand over hundreds of dollars. Assume you’ll have weeks of unanswered calls and e-mails to follow. It’s probably worth the fees to let someone else sort it out. If they win, you get 2/3 to 3/4 of the settlement. If you lose, you pay nothing. There’s an online calculator where you put in flight details to figure it out.

Just remember that this law and others like it don’t apply when a delay is caused by weather problems or other issues beyond the airlines’ control. Here’s the EU’s out clause: “The Airline is not obliged to provide cash compensation in the case of extraordinary circumstances which could not have been foreseen even if the airline took all reasonable precautions.” In general, the courts have ruled against the airlines whey they have tried to apply this “extraordinary circumstances” clause too broadly to deny compensation.

Whether you’re in Europe or elsewhere, it does pay to know your rights. U.S. carriers are required to post passenger rights on their website, though of course you’ll have to hunt for them and slog through a lot of legalese to figure them all out. On Delta Airlines’ site, for example, rights are not posted under “Travel With Us,” but buried in the site map with names under several sections like “Suspended Travel FAQs.” (Their @deltaassist Twitter team is very helpful though.) The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains a much clearer page about compensation regulations. But yes, there’s an app for that too, a 99-cent one called Flyers Rights.

If you’d like to have a hand in shaping passenger rights and laws in the United States, join the Travelers United organization.

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Thursday 9th of October 2014

I don't know why anyone flies with the big U.S. airlines for an international trip. They're completely horrible and I'm sure even if they owe you compensation, they won't tell you and will make you go get your own hotel and food even when it's their fault. Almost any foreign airline is going to be better if you have a choice.


Thursday 9th of October 2014

Nice post. It's amazing how few people know about this law, it can be a lifesaver. It doesn't make up for missing a day of holiday but it's something at least.

I claimed with a different agent called ( I'm sure they do the same sort of thing. I do wonder whether you'd be able to claim yourself though, would be nice to keep all the money you get to yourself!


Tuesday 7th of October 2014

Interesting post and I didn't know the legal technicalities. But from experience I've been treated well by European airlines, an example was during the volcanic storm over parts of Europe in 2010. We got to Paris but the connecting flight on to Munich was cancelled. Air France gave me a voucher and I had a paid hotel stay and meals until I was able to fly out the next day. U.S based airlines? Total shit. My story with USAir: We don't have it great in Canada but at least we have a semblance of service. I try whatever I can, even if I have to pay a couple of hundred bucks more, not to have to connect through the states. Honestly, not worth the years shaved off my life by the stress caused by what I have to go through every time I go through there. I don't know if Americans are aware of this, but especially for non-US passports a real hassle. I hear the same thing from Europeans all the time. Good post, sheds some light. Frank (bbqboy)

chris edwards

Monday 6th of October 2014

don't forget about credit cards that offer flight delay insurance