Understand Your Rights after a Delayed, Cancelled, or Overbooked Flight


Traveling through the skies has become a convenience that, in today’s society, is virtually impossible to live without. However, with this convenience comes many variables that all must cooperate with one another to ensure safe and efficient flight plans. Unfortunately, flights are often cancelled, delayed, overbooked, or otherwise unable to get you where you need to go. These types of occurrences can be both a huge inconvenience and catastrophic for your travel plans. Fortunately both the European and U.S. authorities on transportation, the European Economic Community (EEC) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) respectively, have set regulations that ensure passengers aren’t left high and dry in the event their travel plans must be changed.

European Economic Community (EEC)

The EEC regulates all compensation and reimbursements for passengers that are flying within the EU. These rules, however, are only valid if the airport of departure is either in EU or the arrival airport is in the EU, Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland.

There are many stipulations and circumstance regulations in the EEC’s handling of passenger compensation; below is an outline of a few of these basic rights that all EU passengers should know.

A refund or alternative transportation may be made available to those passengers whose flights have been cancelled, overbooked, or delayed by more than 5 hours. The airline, in this situation can do a few different things; offer you transport to your destination by alternative means, transport you to your original departure point, free of charge, or lastly provide a full refund. In the event that the airline does provide you with a full refund, they are no longer responsible for any further assistance with your travel plans. In short, if you get your money back –you’re on your own. To ensure that you, the passenger, are aware of these basic rights, your airline is required to inform you of these rights and the reason that you are not able to board, or the reason for the cancellation or delay. In addition to reimbursement, airlines may also provide food and overnight stay if necessary and depending on the distance of the flight and/or length of the delay. These small comforts can go a long way when you’re stuck at an airport for 8+ hours. So be sure to inquire with your chosen airline if ever put in this situation.

Similar to a refund is the option of financial compensation. This is only available however, if your flight is cancelled, arrives more than 3 hours late to your final destination, or you are denied boarding due to overbooking. This compensation from the airline could be anywhere between 250 and 600 Euro. The amount received depends solely on the distance of the flight in question. For example, with flights that are within the EU and less than 1,500 km, you are entitled to 250 Euro. Flights in the region that are over 1,500 km, however, can get you an additional 150 Euro, equaling up to 400 Euro. The compensation is the same for flights between EU and non-EU airports, however there is also the over 3,500 km option, in which case the airline can provide you up to 600 Euro. The airline measures this distance to your final destination, not a hub that may be nearby. There are some caveats to this compensation; if the airline is, in fact, able to provide you with a different flight that has a schedule similar enough to your original itinerary, any compensation you are due to receive will be cut in half. Additionally, there is no compensation available if the cancellation or severely delayed flight is due to extraordinary circumstances (such as weather), you were informed about the impending delay at least 2 weeks prior to the flight, or you were previously offered a similar, alternative flight, and turned said flight down.

While cancellations due to these extraordinary circumstances, such as weather, will not get you the normal compensation –you may still be eligible for a full or partial ticket refund, separate transportation, or a rebooking, free of charge.

Now, it is important to note that the airlines naturally, are not extremely excited about giving away their goods and services because of issues. So they may not always be so forthcoming about these compensations that you are entitled to. This is why it is important to know how to retrieve these refunds and services. You must submit a formal complaint under the Air Passenger Rights EU form and submit this to your airline, be sure to make a copy for yourself. The copied form is an asset because at times, this complaint form may not work, or may leave you unsatisfied with your compensation. If this is the case, you are encouraged to forward your concerns to whichever national enforcement body the incident in question has taken place.

United States Department of Transportation

In the United States, the Department of Transportation (DOT) does things a bit differently than the EU when it comes to the compensation available for problems with flight plans. There are three different instances in which you are entitled to get compensation or help from an airline because of flight problems: being bumped from an airline, a short delay or tarmac delay, or a significant delay and/or cancellations.

If an airline overbooks their flight and bumps you from your originally scheduled flight, you are entitled to double the price of your ticket, up to $650, if the airline is able to get you where you’re going within 2 hours for domestic flights, and if they are able to get you to your destination within 4 hours for international flights. Should there be a longer delay, the airline will compensate you four times the amount of your original ticket up to $1,300. Notably, these compensations are in place solely for overbooking. Should you get bumped for any other reason, there is no compensation regulation in place, currently.

Tarmac delays are another instance in which airlines in the U.S. could owe you compensation. An Airline, according to DOT, is not allowed to keep you waiting on the tarmac for more than 3 hours on domestic flights, and no more than four for international trips. There must be arrangements made to deboard the plane; however, safety and air traffic-control reasons are exceptions to this rule.

Cancelled flights can be some of the worst cases for travelers in the U.S.. The DOT mandate states that you are entitled to receive a full refund should there be a substantial delay or cancellation on your flight. However, the tricky part is that airlines can judge for themselves what exactly a substantial means. Fortunately for you, airlines are required to disclose their plans for these types of situations in the “Customer Service Plans”, which are open for your review. Many of these regulations however, are quite variable are depend of the discretion of the airline when it comes to implementing the regulations set.