You’ve just arrived at the airport and checked in with your airline, but instead of saying, Welcome aboard, the agent tells you that your flight has been delayed. Frustrating? Absolutely—but it’s also an opportunity to get some money back, depending on the circumstances and which airline you fly with. The best thing to do when your flight is delayed (or cancelled) is to contact the airline immediately and find out what they can do to help you out.
1) Understand how airlines handle compensation
In general, airlines will provide vouchers when a flight is delayed and offer cash compensation if it’s canceled or significantly delayed. Different airlines have different policies in terms of how much money you can expect as well as what qualifies as a canceled flight. The best way to know exactly what your airline will offer you is to read their official policy and contact customer service in advance if you need clarification on details (or if there are any questions). There’s also a chance that your travel insurance could cover some of your expenses—but make sure to check before leaving home so you don’t end up without anything.
2) Know your rights
If your flight is delayed, you’re entitled to certain benefits—but only if you know how to go about getting them. Unfortunately, airline employees may not always be up-to-date on their own policies or they might try to discourage travelers from getting what they’re owed. Follow these seven tips and do everything in your power to get your money back. A little bit of legwork now can mean a big payout later.
3) Know your airline’s policy
Airlines have their own policies on delays, cancellations and so on. And while those policies may give you a leg up when it comes to getting some compensation, they aren’t infallible—some airlines require you to provide evidence of their error before they’ll even consider giving you a refund. So make sure you know your airline’s policy so that you can play by its rules. The best place to look is directly on their website; if that doesn’t pan out, try searching for [airline] delay compensation or something similar in Google (for example, Delta delay compensation). Even better, there are some good mobile apps available (like AirHelp) that list most of your major airlines’ policies in one convenient place.
4) Request the right way
If your flight is delayed, airline representatives may not volunteer to offer you compensation. If they don’t and you know your rights, a quick call to your airline’s customer service number could be all that it takes to get a small token of appreciation. (It helps if you have documentation of what was said.) Write down any notes or voicemails that might be helpful later if there are any misunderstandings. And if you still don’t hear from anyone after several days of trying, follow up with another phone call. Repeat as necessary!
5) Follow up with phone calls if necessary
In some cases, airlines will send vouchers as compensation for delayed flights. But if you don’t receive them or if they aren’t enough to cover your trip, you can make a phone call and politely remind them of their obligations to passengers. You can even offer alternatives — for example, asking about hotel discount codes — that may appeal to an airline more than another cash payment. Airlines prefer keeping customers happy over paying out money; at times, it might feel like they are stalling until they do. Call your airline before canceling your flight and work on securing compensation in whatever form is best for you.
6) If you don’t get what you want, raise a fuss
Airlines are governed by a set of rules called federal regulations, which means that most of what they do is regulated. This makes them accountable to consumers. If you’re not satisfied with your experience on an airline, contact them directly and ask for what you want. You can use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to share your experience and communicate directly with airline representatives. If your request is denied, then file a complaint through Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT has been especially successful in getting airlines to comply with their rules governing customer service as it relates to travel delays and cancellations. So don’t be afraid to make a fuss!
7) Consider hiring an attorney
Airlines are extremely hesitant to cough up cash, especially when they think they’re in the right. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it yourself—but you may have better luck if you hire an attorney to write your appeal and negotiate with airlines on your behalf. Airlines sometimes offer a more-than-fair settlement to avoid even higher costs and bad publicity. But proceed carefully: some attorneys charge hefty upfront fees, only offering a percentage of what you end up recouping from airlines (notably United and American Airlines). Either way, if your flight is delayed by at least six hours or more, you may be eligible for compensation according to international rules about consumer rights.