Flight Delays: your rights
For flights scheduled to depart from, arrive to, or fly within the United States:
In the United States, there is not the same umbrella regulation to protect passengers as there is in the European Union: airlines are not required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or cancelled. The U.S. law only requires airlines to compensate customers when passengers are involuntarily denied boarding, known as being ‘bumped’, from a flight that has been oversold.
Each U.S based airline will have its own policies regarding what it will offer delayed passengers. Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport, there are no federal requirements. These policies can be found in an airline’s customer agreement, known as a contract of carriage.
You can follow these links to discover the delay and compensation rules under the Contract of Carriage for these major US airlines: United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue.
It is important to note that the rules on compensation are set by the United States’ Department of Transportation, and applies to flights that operate to, from, or within the US. There can be exceptions: if the U.S. based carrier you are flying is flying from Europe, you follow European Union rules. For example, if your flight from Paris to New York is delayed for more than three hours, you could be entitled to compensation.
The Department of Transportation has, however, laid our laws regarding tarmac delays, a specific type of delay that sees passengers stuck on a plane before departing or after landing. Find out more here.
For flights scheduled to depart from, arrive to, or fly within the European Union:
Under EU law, the European Union Legislation 261 to be precise, passengers are protected by rules and a compensation structure, and have significant rights on flights to, from or within the European Union - a full country list can be found here. To be covered by this law, your flight must meet either of the following criteria:
1. Flights departing from an EU airport and operated by any airline
2. Flights arriving at an EU airport and operated by an EU airline
It is important to note that if you book with one airline but fly with another, known as a ‘codeshare flight’, then it is the nationality of the airline operating the flight that counts. For example, if you have booked a flight from New York to London through British airways, but the operating carrier is American Airlines, you will not be covered by EU regulations, even if there is a BA flight number on your e-ticket.
The Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) states that if you are travelling with an EU airline you will be entitled to compensation from the airline following a delay of three hours or more. The amount will differ depending on the length of flight (in kilometres).
This does not apply to delays caused by ‘exceptional circumstances’, defined by the CAA as ‘an occurrence outside of the airline control and despite the airline taking reasonable measures, would still delay the flight’. Examples include adverse weather or strikes.
If your flight is delayed, you are also entitled to care and assistance. This includes: food and drink, appropriate to the time of day (usually vouchers); a means of communication (such as refunding the cost of your calls); accommodation, if you’re delayed overnight (usually a nearby hotel); and transport to and from the accommodation (or your home).
The airline should arrange the above for you; however, sometimes this is not possible, especially during major disruption. If this happens, you have the right to organise reasonable care for yourself, and then claim the cost back later. Retain all receipts and do not spend more than what is reasonable.
If you need to make a claim, follow the instructions set out by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The 5 hour rule
Once your flight has been delayed for more than five hours, you are entitled to a refund if you no longer wish to travel. You should also receive a refund for any unused parts of your booking (for instance, the return flight), and a flight back to your departure airport if you’ve already completed part of your journey.