Flight delays and cancellations definitely aren’t something people expect and can often leave people feeling helpless and stranded — both literally and physically. Considering the number of people flying each day it’s safe to assume that at one point, you might experience a flight delay, but many people don’t realize (unless the airline volunteers the information) that they’re entitled to compensation, meal vouchers, hotel vouchers, or a combination of all three.
To make the most of a trip gone wrong, here’s an overview of what to do and what you’re entitled to.
Find out the reason for the delay or cancellation
There are numerous reasons why a flight might be delayed, but airlines generally only provide you with any compensation if the delay is for a reason within their control. Controllable reasons include things like maintenance issues, a plane being late to arrive to the airport, crew scheduling problems, aircraft cleaning or baggage loading, while uncontrollable ones can be due to weather, medical emergencies, ground delays or air traffic control or unruly passengers.
Luckily in the European Union there’s better legislation on airline delays, applying to all flights that either leave or arrive into the EU, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. There’s no laws surrounding compensation for delays in the US or Canada — if you’re delayed here, it’s up to airline’s own policies as to how they’ll compensate you.
Here’s how the EU requires airlines to compensate passengers:
Know the rules and rights you’re entitled to
When an issue is outside of an airline’s control, there’s not much you should expect — WestJet, Air Canada, United and Southwest will provide you with a voucher for a discounted hotel room and book you onto the next available flight, either departing from the same airport or one nearby.
Issues within the control of airlines, on the other hand, are a different story. Depending on the length of the delay, expect meal vouchers for food in the airport, a hotel and airport transfer if your travel is delayed significantly, or drinks and snacks if the delay happens while you’re on the aircraft.
In both cases if you’re no longer interested in flying, airlines will be more than happy to either issue a travel voucher or a refund for the unused portion of the trip, but if you try to book a last-minute flight with a different company, it could end up costing much more than initially paid.
Air Canada is unique in that it can sub out your plane ride for a train ride with Via Rail if your train is delayed — keep in mind that this will take longer to arrive than flying but will let you skip going through airport security again.
Check-in early and download the app
Most airlines will allow for passengers to check-in 24 hours before their flight — it’s important to do so, as this will allow for people to select a seat for free and is one of the factors that is looked at when determining who to bump on oversold flights.
Bumping happens when an airline oversells a flight — it allows more people to purchase seats than the actual number of seats, and happens mostly when it has to swap out one airplane for another at the last minute. Though it helps airlines keep their cost down by ensuring that planes aren’t flying when they’re only half full, it sometimes results in people being either voluntarily or forcibly bumped from their flight.
Find out whether your credit card company has your back
You might be in luck if you booked your ticket using your credit card. The AmEx Cobalt and Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite credit cards offer up to $500 in delay compensation, among many other cards on the market.
Remain calm and kind
It’s important to remember that while you’re stressed out, the gate agents responsible for bumping and rebooking passengers are too! The best way to get service quickly is to remain calm and polite.
Better yet, call the airline’s customer service phone number directly — they’re more likely to be able to help you in a timely manner and in many cases, you can rebook your flight directly on the airline’s website.