My flight got delayed/cancelled! How do I get compensation?

My flight got delayed/cancelled! How do I get compensation?
PHOTO: Pixabay

Picture this: you rush to the airport to kickstart your trip and find out that your flight is delayed, or even worse, cancelled! What to do? Before you entertain thoughts of a vacation ruined, take a breath. Turns out, you have rights to be compensated for the annoyance these disruptions cause. Here is the Consumer Rights 101 in case your flight is delayed and cancelled.

(Do you know your rights? If yes, jump straight to the "How to Claim Compensation" section to learn how to get your rightful compensation.)

THE TRAGIC STORY OF A FLIGHT ONCE DELAYED

One time flying from Amritsar back to Singapore on what should be the end of a great adventure trip, I find out that my low-cost carrier (which shall remain unnamed) had postponed my 6 am flight to 9.30 am.

How/when did I find out this? When I reached the check-in counter at 4 am.

Did I receive any previous warning (or any kind of explanation) from the airline? No. Didn't even get an apology.

Did I get any assistance or food/water while we were waiting? Nope.

Did I get compensated after the flight? No, I didn't.

Why not? Didn't you complain? Didn't know what to do… After complaining over email and FB message to the airline and getting no response, I let the subject die only to regret it later. Shortly after, I went on a quest to find out what can I do should this ever happen again.

The moral of the story: Don't be me. Know your rights and get the compensation you deserve. I will pass on the wisdom I gathered so you can use it to your advantage.

FLIGHT DELAYED: WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS? 

Delays are frequent and the longer the delay, the higher the chance it will disrupt your travel plans (and, therefore, higher chances of annoyance). The type of compensation depends mainly on 2 factors:

  • The region where are you flying to or from - some regulations are country/area specific (EU and the United States have those),
  • Airlines policies - if there are no country-specific laws, depends on each airlines' policy and what they state in their terms and conditions.

Despite these nuances, let's look at the general practices:

FLIGHT DELAYS OF LESS THAN 3 HOURS

When your departure is delayed by at least two hours, most airlines will follow what is called the "right to care" including:

  • Inform you of the delay and its causes by different means: announcing on the terminal, send you an email or SMS notification with the changes.
  • Give you access to phone/email in case you need to communicate with others to make travel arrangements.
  • Provide you with food and drink options or vouchers, proportional to the length of the delay. If this is not offered to you voluntarily by the airline, head over to the customer service counter ask for about "right to care" policies.

In this case, you won't get monetary compensation.

FLIGHT DELAYS OF 3 OR MORE HOURS 

If the delay lasts more than 3 hours, you are entitled to all the above and, by EU law, if you arrive at your destination 3 or more hours than what was initially planned, you can claim compensation. The amount is defined by EU's EC 261 (more details on this EU Regulation 261/2004 on the section below) and varies depending on:

  • The total distance of your journey,
  • The total duration of the delay (calculated based on your destination).
  • Why should you care about this? This compensation can go up to 50 per cent of the price of your flight for longer distances and delays of more than 4 hours long.

If you are at Changi Airport worried about what to do while you wait to board your delayed flight, remember they don't call it one of the best airports in the world for nothing. From F&B to movie theatres, massages and even a butterfly garden, I'm sure you will find something to do until you are allowed to board.

FLIGHTS DELAYED FOR 5 OR MORE HOURS

Bottom line, if your flight is delayed for 5 hours or more, you don't have to take it. You should be given 2 choices:

  • The choice to take the flight and get monetary compensation for the loooong delay (as EU law requires, check below).
  • The option to not take the flight and get a full refund of all of your flights under the same booking, along with a free flight back to your destination in case the delay happens during a connecting journey.

And, of course, the airline should follow the "right to care" mentioned in the first section.

WHAT TO DO IF MY FLIGHT GETS CANCELLED? 

Things change slightly when your flight gets cancelled. The outcome of compensation for a flight cancelled depends on the time you were notified of the cancellation: were you informed days before or it was a short notice thing?

2 things can happen:

  • You get a refund.
  • Or, you are offered an alternative flight.

The airline should allow you to choose between these.

BUT DO I STILL HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COMPENSATED?

Yes, you still might be eligible to receive compensation depending on where and which airline you are flying with.

In a perfect world, airlines would abide by all the above, and every traveller would be happy. But this isn't an ideal world and airlines are, at the end of the day, business companies. Meaning, all these rules and guidelines are subjected to politically enforced laws (if any), and the airlines own policies and T&Cs. Let's look at the different scenarios below.

  • If you are flying from EU or on an EU based airline, or USA airlines, there are specific laws in place to rule this space, so it becomes easier to claim and get compensated.
  • In Singapore, it will all depend on the airline's procedures. In case of a dispute with an airline, the process is not so straightforward. In short, you better have travel insurance to cover for any issue.

Airlines typically have a procedure for passengers to claim compensation in the event of a flight cancellation or delay. The terms of the compensation differ from airline to airline and may be found in the specific airline policy of your airline.

1. FLIGHTS TO OR FROM EUROPEAN UNION 

Under European Union law, Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 gives flight passengers that right to get compensation for cancellations when:

  • If they were informed about it less than 14 days before the time of departure.
  • If the cancellation is due to extraordinary circumstances (explained on the next section).
Photo: ShopBack

Any person in the world has the right to lodge a claim for compensation under this 261/204 regulation. You do not have to be an EU citizen. The only requirement is that one or more of the above-listed scenarios apply.

For the 1st criteria, there are 3 possible scenarios of compensation:

  1. Your flight was cancelled more than 14 days before departure. Therefore you are not entitled to compensation. But still should get a choice to be refunded or re-routed.
  2. Your flight was cancelled less than 7 days before your scheduled flight or, even worse, when you were already at the airport. In this case, here is how you should get compensated:
    Photo: ShopBack
  3. Your flight was cancelled between 7 to 14 days before departure. Then, you are entitled to the following compensation: 
    Photo: ShopBack

Even though airlines don't advertise it, you can claim up to 600€ (S$920) for your cancelled or delayed flights.

2. FLIGHTS TO OR FROM THE UNITED STATES 

Not as strictly regulated as the Eurozone, USA still has its own set of regulations that protect passengers from flights disruptions.

USA based airlines, or operating in the territory, are requested to have a customer service procedure to deal with flights delays and cancellations, under the US Department of Transportation Final Rule on Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections II.

What do you need to do? Check the customer service for your specific airline for the rules they specify for flights to and from the US.

3. WHAT HAPPENS IN SINGAPORE 

Singapore does not have a specific countrywide regulation for flight cancellations, so travellers need to follow the guidelines each airline state on their website. And, the rules and compensation offers vary among airlines.

Let's look at 3 popular flight companies in Singapore:

Singapore Airlines: On their customer service plan, Singapore Airlines states that in case of delays, cancellations or flight diversions they will inform the passengers within 30 mins and provide support as fitted for each situation (food, accommodation and assistance). Read all the conditions here.

Jetstar: At the time of publishing, Jetstar states on their website that they will commit to inform the passengers about delays over 45 mins and finding alternatives in case of a flight cancellation. They offer a $50 or $100 travel voucher in case they fail to meet this commitment. Check all their voucher information and full details here.

Scoot: Scoot flight is delayed or cancelled less than 24 hours before departure, they commit to finding an alternative travel option. If they can't, they will offer you a travel voucher at least equal to your itinerary value. All details are here in section 9.3. Note that they state the following "Unless provided for in a Convention or applicable law, we will not be responsible for paying any costs or expenses you may incur as a result of the controllable delay or cancellation. " Meaning, if the law doesn't cover it, you better have travel insurance to compensate you.

If there is no law to regulate these situations, it all comes down to a matter of wording. Different airlines have different policies, written in a specific way. read them carefully.

What can you do about it? Get your own travel insurance to get coverage on all these murky and uncertain situations.

Photo: ShopBack

HOW TO CLAIM COMPENSATION FOR A DELAYED OR CANCELLED FLIGHT

If you need compensation, and given that different laws and guidelines apply, how can you go about it? It's easy, there are 3 ways to approach this: do it yourself by contacting the relevant parties, use a 3rd party company to claim for you or use a lawyer.

Hopefully, you will only have to resort to the first option: claiming compensation with the airline you booked your flight with.

1. CONTACT THE AIRLINE AND DESCRIBE THE CASE - DO IT ON YOUR OWN!

Reach out to the flight company via email, form, letter and state how much money you are claiming for your flight disruption, along of proof/receipts of any incurred expenses.

If you are flying to or from the EU, include the appropriate quote from the EU Regulation 261/2004 (or EC 261) in your claim. This way the airline will know you are a savvy customer. There are fewer chances of your claim being refused if you back it up with the respective law.

Note: You always claim compensation to the airline which operated the flight, not the company/OTA that you booked with. Example, if you booked the flight through Expedia with Singapore Airlines, you make your claim with Singapore Airlines.

Did you get a response and resolution? If yes, awesome! The problem is solved. No? Follow this next step. Escalate your claim to a National Enforcement Body (NEB) or an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. In Singapore, you can contact Case.org. If you have a dispute with an airline and are unable to resolve it, ask CASE for assistance or file a claim at the Small Claims Tribunals.

2. CLAIM WITH A 3RD PARTY 

There are online services that assist you in filing a claim with airlines. For a fee, they will follow up on the case and help you with all the bureaucracies that these cases involve. Use a claims management company like ClaimCompass, Refund.me or AirHelp.

3. USE A LAWYER 

I would say this is your last resort for a more serious case of litigation. A law professional will assist in taking a case to court and help you get the rightful compensation. With the costs that come with hiring a lawyer, this is a decision that needs to be taken seriously.

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS 

CAN I CLAIM COMPENSATION FROM MY TRAVEL INSURANCE AGENCY? 

As passengers, delays and cancellations are out of our control. The best we can do is to get travel insurance for our trips to cover for all these unexpected events. Most travel insurance plans in Singapore will protect you against delayed flights.

Note: Before signing up, remember always to read the airline's policies regarding delayed flights. And, keep your boarding pass and all receipts for any expense you might have done because of the delay.

MY FLIGHT WAS CANCELLED BECAUSE OF BAD WEATHER. CAN I STILL GET COMPENSATION? 

Most airlines state that they can't be held responsible for flight disruption caused by extraordinary circumstances. These may include what it is called:

  • Acts of God: all natural disasters such as storms, volcanic eruptions, extreme fog and other weather conditions that might force airport closing;
  • and, acts of war such as terrorist attacks.

If this is stated in your airline policy, it is likely that claims seeking compensation will not be allowed. In some cases, out of their own goodwill, flight companies will accommodate and provide some leeway to reschedule flights at no cost or allow a flight cancellation or even a partial or full refund. ,>

Best way to act: always contact your airline customer service directly to request for these whenever you are faced with a delay/cancellation due to extraordinary circumstances.

MY FLIGHT WAS DELAYED, AND I MISSED MY CONNECTING FLIGHT BECAUSE OF IT. WHAT HAPPENS NOW? CAN I GET COMPENSATED FOR THAT? 

If you miss a connecting flight because of a delay on the first flight, the airline should re-book you for the next available flight, no questions asked. You are still entitled to compensation on the same terms presented above. If you miss any flight due to your own delay, then no compensation for you, my friend.

In case your flight combines different airlines under the same PNR (passenger name record number): If you missed the connecting flight from airline B because the flight from airline A delayed, you should seek compensation from airline A. The rules and compensation rates indicated above apply.

Most flight options will present you a co-share flight (example: "Qantas Airways operated by Emirates"). In this case, both flights will be under the same PNR and you can seek compensation.

"IF I BOOKED MY CONNECTING FLIGHT ON A SEPARATE BOOKING, IS THAT STILL COVERED?" 

A very important detail to note is: to be entitled to compensation, both flights must be booked under the same PNR. If you booked a multi-ticket itinerary and you are presented with different PNRs (Check it under your ticket information) you won't be able to get any refund.

To remember: If you book your multi-city flight through Expedia, for example, check how many PNRs are under your booking.

Did you book your flights separately? Sorry. You can't claim it with airline A. You can claim it from your travel insurance (which I hope you have!)

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO RECEIVE MY COMPENSATION?

It will vary a lot from airline to airline and also depends on the way you submitted your claim. Average time can be from 2 to 6 weeks.

This article was first published in ShopBack

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