This summer, I was at Frankfurt International Airport, waiting to fly to New York, when the gate agent came on the intercom to announce that our flight would be delayed an hour and a half due to mechanical problems. There were quiet rumblings of discontent, but most people meekly voiced their displeasure and settled in with another episode of Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. The grumbling grew louder when that same gate agent announced, an hour later, that we’d been delayed again. On and on it went for the next five hours—delayed again, delayed again, delayed again. Finally, they notified us that we’d be rebooked on a flight the next morning and would be put up in an airport hotel for the evening. Gone were the quiet rumblings—there were shouts of protest, and there was a mad rush to the counter. Me? I sat silently and collected an information slip from the Delta agent distributing them with a smile: I knew I’d just made close to $750.
I’m not particularly lucky, and I wasn’t booked in first class. In this case, I just happened to know what I was entitled to—and according to AirHelp, a New York-based tech startup that helps passengers secure compensation for delays and cancellations, I’m one of the few: In a survey of 2,000 people across the country, the app found that 92 percent of U.S. citizens don’t know their passenger rights. And given that many airlines don’t make it a point to tell you what you’re owed, well, it can make what they offer you seem pretty swell.
In my case, Delta immediately offered to refund in full the round-trip cost of my flight—a nice gesture, especially given that they were technically only required to refund me for the full remaining value of my ticket (in this case, a one-way). I accepted this refund, and then, when I returned stateside, filed an electronic claim with the airline’s customer care department via email, outlining the situation and asking for my due compensation. They complied, and a check was in the mail: no fuss, no back-and-forth, no disagreement.
For starters, the European Union has greater protections for travelers than the U.S. Under the “EC 261/2004” regulation, travelers on canceled flights within the European Union, on flights departing from any EU or European Economic Area (EEA) airport, or on flights to an EU/EEA airport on an airline based in the EU are entitled to compensation, which they can receive in travel vouchers or cash. (Some fine print, per The Points Guy: “If you fly inside the EU or from Europe to elsewhere, you’re entitled to compensation for a cancellation or a delay of more than three hours regardless of airline. But if you fly to the EU, you must be on an EU airline.”) Amounts vary from €350 ($430) to €600 ($740) depending on the length of the flight and the arrival time of the flight you’re rebooked on, but it’s safe to say you’ll get something, as long as the cancellation is due to a problem within an airline’s control, like the aforementioned mechanical problems, a plane change, or a crew shortage—strikes, weather, fuel shortages, and other cases of force majeure don’t count.
So hey, the next time you have a delayed flight in Europe, grin and bear it—and just think of all the money you’re making.
This article originally appeared on CNTraveler.com.
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