Delays happen. They can be long, they can be short, but no one wants them to happen at all. When they do, what happens next? For most travelers, the answer is simple: they take the delay in stride and wait patiently for their flight to board. However, for some unlucky flyers, a delay can mean lost money and time - especially if they're on a business trip or traveling in luxury. Is there anything those flyers can do to get compensated for their trouble? In this post, we'll explore what flight delay compensation is and whether or not it applies to luxury travelers. Spoiler alert: usually, it does! Read on to learn more.
What is flight delay compensation?
Flight delay compensation is a system put in place to reimburse travelers for expenses incurred due to a flight delay. This can include food, drink, hotel costs, missed connections or canceled flights. The amount of money that a flyer can receive depends on the length of the delay, the distance of the flight, and whether or not the delay was within the airline's control.
It also depends on the particular airline you're flying on, where that airline is from, and your point of departure and destination. Airlines sometimes offer flight delay compensation as a part of their products or services, some major credit cards also offer them as a part of their travel package and you may also purchase travel insurance packages that cover the same events and more. However, in some countries, flight delay compensation is built into the law for customer protection. This means that, regardless of whether the airline is marketing it or not, you are entitled to this protection under certain circumstances.
The following sections of the post cover flight delay compensation established in the law through the different commercial aviation regulators worldwide.
How does flight delay compensation work?
The first thing you need to consider regarding flight delay compensation is whether or not you're entitled to it. That means understanding what it does and doesn't cover.
What does flight delay compensation cover?
Generally speaking, flight delay compensation applies to travelers that meet certain criteria and experience a flight delay of three hours or more. However, there are other events for which you may also claim compensation. These depend on the country of origin and/or destination, but, in general terms, you may claim compensation for:
- Flight delays of 3+ hours
- Flight cancellation
- Bumping off to a different flight due to overselling
- Tarmac delays
Depending on where you're taking off or landing, your flight may be subject to different laws and regulations. We'll cover the specifics around this later down the post. However, it is important to note that, by flight delay, regulations usually mean delays in arrival time at your destination rather than the time to board the plane or take off.
What does flight delay compensation not cover?
A key condition for you to claim compensation from an airline is that the delay must be the airline's fault. Compensation isn't usually available if it was caused by something outside of the airline's control - like bad weather or an act of terrorism.
What comes next?
If, based on the above, you determine that you're eligible for compensation, the next step is to file a claim. When doing so, you usually fill out a form, submit evidence of the costs incurred because of the delay, and wait for the airline to respond.
If everything works out well, you'll receive a check or a deposit for the covered amount, and you're good to go. However, this may not always happen since airlines will try to wiggle out of any liability that reduces their bottom line, even if it was their fault that your flight was delayed. If this happens, you can take your case to the regulators or seek professional advice, as you'll learn below.
Another important thing regarding flight delays is that you don't have to stop what you're doing in the middle or beginning of your trip to file a claim. As long as you keep all the evidence of your incurred expenses, you can claim compensation later down the road. In fact, in the E.U., you can claim flight delay compensation for flights that go as far back as 2016.
How to file a claim
Once you know you have a right to claim compensation, you need to decide whether or not you'll file a claim. There are certain scenarios where you may prefer to avoid claiming compensation, like if you neglected to keep any evidence of the delay or your expenses related to your claim, or if you feel that amount you'll be compensated for isn't worth the trouble.
Start your claim directly with the airline.
If you decide to go ahead, the normal procedure is to call or write to the airline via their dedicated claims channel (most airlines have a dedicated webpage or similar). The airline should provide a claims form that you simply fill out to submit your claim. You'll usually be required to submit copies of any proof of the delay and your expenses during this delay.
Escalate to the national regulatory body if needed
If your claim is rejected by the airline, or you simply never get a response, you can escalate the claim by taking your case to the relevant regulatory body. The specific regulator will depend on where your flight took off from or landed or on which particular airline you flew on. There are currently three available options:
- Within the U.S. or when traveling on US-based airlines, you should reach the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.).
- Within the E.U., you should contact the National Enforcement Body (N.E.B.)
- Within the U.K., you take your case to the Civil Aviation Authority (C.A.A.)
Hire a flight compensation company
If the above doesn't work or if you simply don't want to be bothered with going through the process, you can also hire the service of a flight compensation company whose main role is to get passengers compensated for eligible flight delays or cancellations. Of course, in this case, you won't receive the full compensation you're entitled to because the company will charge a fee.
How much does flight compensation cover?
The types of expenses that flight delay compensation can cover vary depending on the country where you depart from or arrive. However, most programs will reimburse:
- Food and drink
- Missed connections
- Hotel stays, if necessary
- Airport-hotel-airport transportation if necessary
- Telecommunications including Wi-Fi charges and, in some cases, access to a virtual office you can work from, which is essential for digital nomads and other remote workers.
The financial compensation depends on the country and the applied legislation. If your flight is canceled, you are at least eligible to receive a full refund of your ticket and all related expenses to the fare (fees, baggage, upgrades, etc.)
In the U.K., the compensation for a delayed flight goes from £220 to £520, depending on whether it's a short-haul or a long-haul flight. In the E.U., the same applies, but the limits are set in euros, ranging from €250 to €600.
In the U.S., besides similar limits, there are clear regulations regarding bumped flights. If you're bumped off from a short-haul flight, you can claim double the value of the original ticket with a cap at $650, provided the airline manages to get you to your destination within 2 hours of your original schedule. If it's a long-haul flight, you can claim up to 4X the ticket price with a cap of $1,300.
What countries offer flight delay compensation?
Flight delay compensation in the United States
In the U.S., travelers are covered for all domestic flights and domestic airlines. As well as for all flights coming into the country. Passengers are covered for delays and cancellations, usually offering:
- A full refund of the flight ticket along with any paid upgrades and fees applicable to the flight
- Mean vouchers if the delay extends after normal meal hours
- Alternative means of transport to your destination
- Overnight stay at a hotel if needed
Events covered under U.S. law are:
- Tarmac delays, when passengers are made to wait on board the plane for more than 3or 4 hours on domestic and international flights, respectively
- Flight delays and cancellations
- Bumping off to another flight for oversold flights
Flight delay compensation in the European Union (EC261)
You can claim compensation under European Union flight regulation EC261 under the following circumstances, provided that you have not received any compensation from another source:
- If your flight is within the E.U., regardless of the airline
- Flights on E.U. airlines that arrive in the E.U. from outside the E.U.
- Any flight that departs from the E.U. to a non-E.U. country, regardless of the airline
According to this regulation, the definition of a delayed flight depends on the length of the trip and is established based on arrival time:
|Length of flight||Waiting time|
|Short-haul flights under 1,500km||2+ hours|
|Medium-haul flights of 1,500km – 3,500km||3+ hours|
|Long-haul flights of more than 3,500km||4+ hours|
Flight delay compensation in the U.K. (UK261)
After Brexit, many people wonder whether travelers flying to and from the U.K. are still covered for flight delays or cancellations, starting January 2021. The fact is that the same EC261 regulations that cover travelers in the E.U. were also written down in U.K. law after Brexit under regulation UK261. The only real difference is that the maximum covered amounts are set in pounds rather than euros. The conditions for coverage are similar to EU261, with the C.A.A. covering your flight only under the following circumstances:
- If your flight is within the U.K., regardless of the airline
- Flights on U.K. airlines that arrive in the U.K. from outside the U.K.
- Any flight that departs from the U.K., regardless of the airline
There is also the obvious condition that you have not previously received compensation for the same flight from another source.
What does flight delay compensation mean for luxury travel?
As you can see from the conditions above, there are no restrictions regarding the type of ticket or class you purchased to claim compensation. The only things that matter are that the delay/cancellation/bumping is the airline's fault, that you're taking off from or arriving at an E.U., U.K. or U.S. airport and/or on an E.U., U.K. or US-based airline.
So, it's safe to say that flight delay compensation does cover luxury travel. However, there are important things to keep in mind. While your first-class ticket is covered under E.U., U.K. and U.S. law, there is a limit to how much compensation you can claim (refer to the table above). That means that you're unlikely to receive a full refund for your ticket price if need be.
On the other hand, airlines tend to give better treatment to their high-paying customers, so it's more likely that, whatever compensation you're entitled to, the airline is almost sure to cover it without escalating the issue. This is especially true if you're a frequent flyer on that airline.
Additionally, in the case of oversold tickets, first and business-class passengers are less likely to be bumped off to another flight. In the worst of cases, if more first-class passengers show up than there are available seats, you'll probably be offered the choice to downgrade your ticket (with due compensation for your troubles, of course) rather than sending you off on another flight, potentially missing a connection or an important meeting.
The bottom line
Flight delay compensation works primarily in the U.S. and Europe, including the U.K. As a luxury traveler, your trips are covered under U.S., E.U. and U.K. regulations. The only thing that matters when filing a claim is that you keep proof of all expenses incurred during your delay to make it easier for your claim to be approved. Even if the airline refuses to compensate you initially, you still have a shot at getting your rightful money either by escalating to the relevant regulatory body or by hiring professionals to take care of the process for you, albeit in exchange for a fee.