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Frequent travelers are always aware of when they need to arrive at the airport. But do airplanes have the same urgency?
Not according to reports by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Eurocontrol, which suggest flyers are spending more time waiting at the airport than ever before.
But consumers aren’t always stuck paying for airline mistakes; it is possible to get refunds and payments for late flights. Under U.S. and European laws, airlines must to offer compensation to passengers in specific situations. Here's what you need to know to be eligible for airline delay compensation.
Frequent flyers are arriving earlier
Because security and customs lines are longer, travelers are getting to the airport well before departure time. A June 2018 survey commissioned by Capital One showed two-thirds of flyers arrive early at the airport to catch their flight.
Certain credit cards can help you bypass security lines faster, though, through their reimbursement programs or concierge services.
» Learn more: TSA Precheck or Global Entry — which one is right for you?
But European flights are departing later
Although flyers are getting to the airport earlier than ever, airplanes aren't always there to meet them at boarding time. In Europe, network congestion and employee strikes are keeping many passengers from departing or arriving on time.
According to Eurocontrol, more commercial flights operated in June 2018 than at any point in the last five years. But that also resulted in more delays. The average en-route delay per flight increased by 133% in June 2018 compared to the year before.
What’s causing all the delays? Air congestion and staffing issues could be the biggest reason for grounded planes. Compared to last year at this time, air traffic control staffing delays climbed by over 200%, while capacity issues doubled the number of delays.
En-route disruptions and events not attached to air traffic control situations are also on the rise. Disruptions en-route increased by over 470% compared against year-to-date last year, while en-route events which caused delay increased by 42% in the same period.
U.S. flights delayed nearly 20% of the time
Unfortunately, conditions for frequent flyers aren’t much better in the United States. According to the DOT July Air Travel Consumer Report, the on-time rate for flights over the rolling 12-month period ending May 2018 was 80.8%.
JetBlue had the worst on-time arrival performance, only making their scheduled landing 70.3% of the time. Behind them was low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, with only 77.3% of flights landing on time. Among major carriers, Southwest Airlines was the third tardiest, with one in every five flights arriving late.
» Learn more: Delays, lost bags and complaints — how does your favorite airline rank?
How do delayed flights happen? In May 2018, the biggest cause was late-arriving planes: Over 7% of flights were delayed as a result of aircraft not arriving on time. National aviation system delays accounted for 6% of the month's flights. Meanwhile, 5.27% of flights were late due to “air carrier delays,” which were “due to circumstances within the airline’s control.” Maintenance and crew problems count as “air carrier delays.”
How to get compensated for a delay in the United States
Although delayed flights are a regular part of life for frequent flyers, that doesn’t mean they are forced to pay for them out of pocket. Whether it's through travel insurance benefits you may already have, or through laws governing the airspace, passengers have more opportunities for compensation than ever before.
According to the DOT, airlines are not required to provide money or other compensation when flights get delayed, regardless of how late they are. However, when a “significant delay” takes place, passengers may receive refunds for seat selection fees or checked baggage fees. Although there is no specific definition of “significant delay,” the DOT determines refunds on a case-by-case basis. Airlines may also offer food and hotel vouchers to stranded passengers, so be sure to ask if you are delayed.
» Learn more: Does your credit card come with travel insurance? Read our guide to pick the perfect travel companion for your wallet.
If you paid for your flight with a credit card, you may also benefit from travel insurance trip delay benefits as well. Travel insurance benefits are usually extended when individuals pay for their entire flight with a credit card that offers insurance and are delayed by a significant amount of time, usually between six and 12 hours. Benefits differ from company to company, so be sure to check with your issuer before filing a claim.
How to get compensated for a delay in Europe
All European Union carriers must abide by Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, more commonly known as EC261. The compensation rules apply to three types of passengers:
Those departing from an airport located in a territory of an European Union-member state.
Those departing from an EU-member state.
Those traveling to an EU-member state aboard a carrier based in the EU.
Under the law, passengers are guaranteed compensation from their airline in the case of an excessive delay. Compensation levels are set at a maximum of:
250 euros for flights less than 1,500 km (932 miles) delayed at least three hours.
400 euros for flights between 1,500 and 3,500 km (932 to 2,175 miles) delayed at least three hours.
600 euros for flights longer than 3,500 km (2,175 miles) delayed at least four hours.
To receive compensation, you must file a claim with the airline for the delay. In some cases, international carriers may deny claims based on situations out of their control, such as weather or labor disputes. In these situations, your only recourse may be hiring legal representation, either through an attorney or a flight delay compensation company.
How to get compensated for a delay around the world: travel insurance
Travelers’ third option is to request compensation through a travel insurance policy. By purchasing a travel insurance policy around the same time of their flight, travelers can lock in trip delay benefits that may cover unexpected costs, like meals and overnight hotel accommodations.
It’s important to note what situations qualify for a successful travel insurance claim. In most cases, a trip delay benefit won’t cover situations until a flight delay is at least six hours, or as many as 12 hours. Read the fine print on a trip insurance plan to ensure you know when your delay is covered.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: How to choose a travel credit card What a travel agent can do for you that a search engine can’t The best no foreign transaction fee credit cards of 2018