How to Get Paid for Airline Delays

How long can a flight be delayed before compensation? Typically at least six hours, though it varies.
Joe Cortez
By Joe Cortez 
Edited by Mary M. Flory
waiting for flight delay compensation at the airport

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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 flight delay compensation as 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 delayed flight compensation across the U.S., Europe and beyond.

How to get compensated for a flight delay in the U.S.

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. Unfortunately, simply waiting more than 2 hours delay for a flight doesn't automatically qualify you for delayed compensation benefits.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Airlines may also offer food and hotel vouchers to stranded passengers, so be sure to ask if you are delayed.

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.

For instance, Chase card trip delay insurance kicks in when a trip is delayed for more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay. You're automatically covered if you booked your flight with any of these cards:

Benefits differ from company to company and bank to bank, so be sure to check with your issuer before filing a claim.

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How to get flight delay compensation 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, and the delay must have been caused by a factor within the airline's control (so a weather delay wouldn't count). In some cases, international carriers may deny claims based on situations out of their control, such as the aforementioned weather, as well as other issues like labor disputes.

In these situations, your only recourse may be hiring legal representation, either through an attorney or a flight delay compensation company.

For airline delay compensation in other destinations: Consider 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.

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