You've been there before- sitting at the gate watching the departure time change. 8:30pm, 9:00pm, 10:14pm..... The clock passes the scheduled departure time and no update is on the screen, nor is any plane waiting at the gate.
What should you do?
In the US, there are no set rules for delays, it is up to each individual airline. The only kind of protection provided is in the case of overbookings. And even then, the protections are not that stellar (cough cough United Airlines).
(Un)helpful advice from the DOT website regarding delays:
If your flight is delayed, try to find out how late it will be. (Not that helpful if you have already been waiting 6 hours)
If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if it will pay for meals or a phone call. (If you do get a free phone call, pick your friend in the furthest away destination to call and finally catch up with!!)
Remember, however, that there is no rule requiring them to do this.
In other words, if you are delayed, sorry! The airline has no responsibility to do anything for you.
Reach out to the airline on Social Media!
We have had great success in reaching out to the airline via Twitter. In March, we were delayed over 8 hours on our return to Atlanta from Cozumel. Delta ended up having to fly a new plane to Cozumel to pick us up and bring us back (this is known as a relief flight). In this instance, Delta sent us a $200 voucher each- way more than we were expecting and useful for a new flight within the next year. However, they were not obligated to do this so YMMV! As a result of this, flight delays in the US are common and people have generally just come to accept them as the norm.
Stuck in Europe? Different Story!
Europe is a different story though. EU 261/2004 is a fantastic law that has been passed to the benefit of consumers. The summary of this from good ol' Wikipedia
EU 261/2004 establishes "common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, flight cancellations, or long delays of flights. It requires compensation of €250 to €600 depending on the flight distance for delays over 2 hours, cancellations, or being denied boarding from overbooking. Shorter delays mean a percentage of the full compensation."
This law has forced the airlines to improve on-timeliness, cancel fewer flights, and in general improve air transportation across Europe.
A Foster experience of EU 261/2004
In March, Peter's parents (Geoff and Libby) were flying back to Zimbabwe from London Gatwick, transiting in Dubai. The flight between Gatwick and Dubai was delayed for mechanical reasons for over 3 hours causing them to miss their onward flight from Dubai to Harare. As a result, Emirates put them up in a hotel for the night and provided them with food vouchers and transportation to and from the airport.
They did, finally, get to Harare 24 hours after they were originally supposed to and they were entitled to file for additional compensation from Emirates for the delay.
In comes a disruptor- Airhelp.com who have set themselves up and are trained on compensation techniques for flight delays. It was started in 2013 by internet entrepreneurs and their goal is "to fight for millions of travelers who are unsure of their rights, lack the time, or lack the expertise to embark on the claims process independently. We believe that air passenger rights weren't made for airlines to interpret on a whim."
NOTE- It is possible to file for compensation yourself, but the airline will drag this out and make you complete a lot of paperwork (See this article where this guy has been waiting for 6 months on his claim!!.
Airhelp will even scan through your emails (if you give them permission to) to see if you had any flights within the last three years that were delayed that they could try and get you compensation for. Even for flights within the US, they can see if the airline will provide any sort of compensation to you for your time stuck, sitting and waiting at the airport.
Once you start the claim with Airhelp, they will gather the necessary information about the flight: date, destination, airline, and the stated reason for the delay (don;t worry if you do not know). Once you submit this to Airhelp, they will run it through their database and check to see if your flight is eligible and if it is worth putting in a claim. If not, you will see right away.
If it is approved, they will start working on their end to get you any compensation you are entitled to based on the law. Their fees are simply laid our on their website.
Essentially, the basic cost is 25% of the compensation received for our regular customers and 35% for Online Travel Agency (OTA) customers. If we proceed with legal action, we will add our Legal Fee and round the amount off at 50%. This rate is fixed: we will never charge more than that, no matter what the amount. Fees include everything – our communication with the airline, any and all assistance we provide across multiple channels, preparation for legal action, and then taking further legal action, if necessary. So, feel free to sit back and we’ll take care of the rest. (Source)
Their communication along the way is very good- they advised Geoff and Libby that the claim would take about 35 days on average with Emirates. Since they deal with these airlines on a day to day basis, they have the data that shows how long it generally takes, and who is generally the best and the worst at paying claims. (No surprises, US airlines are ranked low on EU 261/2004 claims!) Once approved, they were told it would take about a week to receive their compensation from the airline, minus their cut for filing the claim. It doesn't take long and you could be missing out on money that legally is owed to you. All in all it took Geoff and Libby about 38 days to get compensation from Emirates.
Have you had delayed flights in Europe or in the US? We'd recommend Air Help to assist you in the claims process and getting your compensation. If you have had a delayed flight in the last three years, start your claim today, you have nothing to lose (Fostering Travel has an affiliate relationship with Air Help and may be compensated for any successful referrals. This has in no way influenced our review of them).