With school out of session and those vacation plans to Europe tentatively approved by the boss, summer is a prime season for international travel.
Travel to the European Union by U.S. citizens increased significantly between May 2017 and June 2018, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. But as travel into and out of Europe surges during the summer months, the likelihood of a delay at major hubs such as London Gatwick and Manchester also increases.
If that happens on your next trip, you might be able to take advantage of a little-known policy, Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004. It offers all travelers, regardless of nationality, reimbursement in the event of a flight delay, denied boarding or cancellation. If your airline approves the claim, you are entitled to compensation between €250 and €600 ($281 and $676) per person for your inconvenience.
But before you call the airline or type out a tersely worded tweet, you should know that your trip may not be covered by the regulation.
“If an airline is able to put you on a connecting flight or another nonstop flight under the threshold, then technically they don’t owe you anything,” said Jamie Larounis, founder of travel blog The Forward Cabin.
Here’s what you should know:
How can I file a claim for compensation?
First, it’s helpful to know that the type of compensation you can receive depends on the nature of your delay or cancellation. If your flight was delayed by fewer than three hours, then you aren’t covered under the rule. Also, if your flight was delayed or canceled for “extraordinary circumstances,” like severe weather or political unrest, then it isn’t covered either.
Airlines generally have flight compensation information located on their websites (though you may have to look closely to find it). The airlines, according to the legislation, are required to inform passengers of their rights.
When you file the claim with your airline or through a watchdog agency such as FlightRight, you will be asked to provide your flight number and booking reference, as well as information about why your flight was delayed or canceled, so it’s helpful to have that information handy.
Does the regulation apply only to airlines with headquarters in E.U. countries?
To be eligible for compensation, your flight must be on an E.U. airline only if you’re flying into an E.U. country. But if your flight originated in, or if you’re traveling within, the E.U., then you are also covered under the regulation regardless of the airline.
For example, if Air France canceled your flight from Paris to Chicago for mechanical issues, then you would be covered under the regulation because the trip originated in an E.U. country and the flight is on an E.U. airline. However, if your American Airlines flight traveling from Dallas to Rome was delayed, then it wouldn’t be considered eligible for compensation because American isn’t an E.U. carrier, even though the flight terminated in an E.U. country.
How long does it take to get compensated?
Technically, you’re entitled to be reimbursed for your journey within seven days. But patience is key — you might have to follow up with your airline by calling or sending a message on Twitter or Facebook.
Before filing for compensation, airlines may also offer you perks like free miles or travel vouchers instead of what they are legally obligated to provide you — money. Ultimately, you should decide what’s best for you and your travel plans. You’re entitled to cash, but you may be able to receive airline miles or upgrades to business or first class, depending on availability, for the inconvenience. Once the reimbursement has been processed, the airline will pay you in cash, check or by bank transfer.
Will Brexit complicate filing a claim?
AirHelp, a website that helps passengers file compensation claims, says British passengers alone received almost €800 million in compensation between 2017 and 2018.
Until Britain formally exits the European Union, the country — and its airlines — is still subject to the E.U. 261 legislation. Flights on U.K. carriers including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic must comply with the rule until Britain leaves the E.U., but it’s unclear what will happen after the Brexit deadline.
Can I file a claim through a third party?
Third-party companies like Refund. Me and FlightRight.com can do much of the heavy lifting of filing your claim with an airline — but they don’t do it because they are nice people who understand the frustration of canceled flights. Some companies charge steep fees to file a claim for you.
“The airline has to verify the flight, verify why it was delayed and verify that you were on it. The intermediaries have some legal power to expedite that process,” said Mr. Larounis.
Can I retroactively file for compensation?
The regulation does not specify a blanket statute of limitations for compensation. Each country in the E.U. decides how far back a claim can be filed. In Germany, for example, the statute of limitations is six years.
Victoria M. Walker is a multimedia journalist who covers travel and a lecturer in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film at Howard University. She previously worked as a video editor at The Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter and read more of her work at VikkieVentures.com.
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