How to Claim Compensation from Airline

How to claim compensation yourself for flight delay, what are your rights and how to prepare a letter to the airline? All of these questions will be answered in this blog post where I share my experienced from getting numerous claims settled for me and my friends.

Ruined start of vacation, missed business meetings and anger. This is what can happen if airline cancels your flight or if it is significantly delayed. As I fly quite a lot, I have seen my fair share of delays and various mishaps, so in this article I am sharing my experience on claiming compensations. This article will mostly be interesting and valid for those flying on EU airlines (such as Lufthansa, Finnair) or flights from EU by non-EU carrier (for example such as Turkish Airlines flight from Riga to Istanbul). These examples won’t by valid for non-EU carriers flying to EU, such as a flight by United from Miami to London. However, many countries outside of EU also have their own regulations regarding passenger compensations and I also mention my experience in other countries.

EC Regulation 261/2004

First thing to keep in mind if you are a traveler, is the EC regulation 261/2004. There is a very nice short description of it on Wikipedia here, but in short it is a document that can help you claim as much as 600 eur in cash. Some of the provisions of regulation can come in handy while travelling, so it worth to keep a copy on your phone. Although airlines are obliged to inform the passengers of their rights, in practice I have never seen this happen. Also, a good insurance will be useful too, especially the “unexpected changes” provision.

What to do on Location

If you arrive to the airport and find out that your flight has been cancelled or is significantly delayed and you might miss the connecting flights, you should take the following steps:

  • ask airport employees where you should go. Usually you have to find a designated information desk and start waiting in the line (and waiting can take even up to several hours). I have heard numerous stories of people waiting in the line for 8 and even 10 hours. Sometimes there is no such desk and you have to go to land-side area of the airport to the check-in counter, at times changes are done at the gate. Might happen that you will need to pick up your checked luggage on the way as well.
  • while you are walking or waiting in the line, check other available flights (and bus and train, if applicable) to your final destination or call a friend who is by the computer and can check for you. It’s always useful to know what flights are available and not just with the airline that caused you all this trouble. You can ask to be put on the next flight out, irrespective of the carrier. But, before begging for a flight, it is useful to check if there are seats available. The most common issue with requesting a flight operated by another airline is that the airline at fault will try to keep you on their own service or at least within the same airline alliance, as this doesn’t cost them additional money. Sometimes the flights offered might be only on the next day! But, if you are prepared, know your flights, you can ask for another flight and sometimes it will be granted. Last resort is asking for the attendants supervisor, if nothing else works.
  • when you have found the flights that would work for you but are still waiting in the line, it’s time to call the airline. Don’t just settle for the phone number of your own country, as it might not work or be busy all the time. For example, in case of strike with Lufthansa I have called many countries numbers and finally reached the Irish one, where the operator agreed to change my connecting flight from Barcelona to Riga, to a direct one with another airline. Airline employees can also change flights you have purchased through a third party, such as Expedia, if the departure time is very near. If you call the call center and are not satisfied with the answer, just hang up and try call center of another country or even same one, as a different person might pick up. If it’s finally your turn at the desk in the airport and you still have time til your new flight, ask for the employee to provide you with a written confirmation of the delay or cancellation and the reasons. This sometimes is requested by insurance companies, but they also might accept a print-screen from Flightradar.

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When You are Home

When you have arrived home, but preferably not later than 21 days after the flight (although all of Europe refers to 2 years time after incident, a recent Latvian court case requested complaint to be submitted within 21 days, so better safe than sorry), fill in the complaint. There might be a section on the airlines’ website where to do it, fill in all the spaces and write down what is the amount you are entitled to (this article will explain the amounts shortly) and write down your account number. Double check if the email you have written there is correct. Usually you will receive a confirmation of receipt very shortly with a reference number, be sure to write it down!

Can you fill in the claim for someone else? Yes, just be sure to include that person’s account number.

What to do if there is no complaint form on the website? You can sent an email to the airline (for airBaltic it is customers@airbaltic.lv , which will sound something like this:
Due to cancellation of my flight BT342 on 8th of December 2016, please pay my compensation of 250 eur based on EC 261/2004 to my account:
name, surname, bank, SWIFT, account number.

The answer time can take from few days to few months. Sometimes it helps to complain on the social media if airline takes especially long to answer.

Insurance

Although insurance won’t give you the “free cash” compensation you could be entitled from the airline, a good coverage will come in handy if airline suddenly decides not to cover the additional transportation or food costs. Usually insurance also answers quicker and you can actually speak to a human when dealing with them. Of course, you would need appropriate policy covering unexpected changes in the trip. Insurers often ask to inform them about incidents as soon as possible, so one option is to call them as soon as you discover an issue with your flight to find out what are you entitled to. Upon arrival home you can fill in a claim.

Compensation

What are you entitled to?

First of all, the fact alone that the airline did finally deliver you safe and sound to your final destination doesn’t mean their responsibility is over. Often you are entitled to monetary compensation or coverage of various expenses.
The system is the following, first, you must understand what type of flight do you have:

  • Type 1 – less than 1500 km. For example, Riga-Vilnius
  • Type 2 – a flight within EU for more than 1500 km or all other flights between 1500 and 3500 km. for example, Riga-Tel Aviv.
  • Type 3 – any flight outside of EU with a greater distance than 3500. For example, Riga-Dubai (connecting flights count too!)

To find out what is the distance, you can use this website.
The, you must look at how late did you reach your final destination. It doesn’t matter that the airline might have only been an hour late, if this resulted in you missing your connecting flight, it’s important how late did you reach your final destination! If you arrive 3 hours or later after the initial time, you are potentially entitled to a compensation. Three hour delay is considered to be equal to flight cancellation. You won’t get any cash in case of no-fly weather conditions, strikes or due to terrorism. Airlines will often cite technical reasons as forces outside of their control, but European Comission has been very clear that only hidden manufacturing defects discovered by the producer of the aircraft or competent authority, and sabotage or terrorism are considered extraordinary circumstances. Keep in mind that the airline only needs to pay compensation or take care of delivering to your final destination only if you have all segments on one ticket. If you have purchased the tickets separately, there won’t be any refund.
But, even if you are not entitled to cash, airline still has to take care of you. First of all, they have to get you home, provide you with food and hotel, if you need to stay overnight, as well as means of communication – two phone calls, faxes or emails. You are entitled to food and communication depending on the type of your flight if your flight is 2,3 or 4 hours late.

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Money (and I mean cash. Not vouchers, coupons or discounts) is the following:

  • Type 1 flights 250 eur
  • Type 2 flights 400 eur
  • Type 3 flights 600 eur

Airlines will often offer vouchers for a larger sum, but it’s passengers right to choose voucher or cash. I always choose cash, as it doesn’t expire and I can use it wherever I want. Airlines cannot force you to take a voucher, they must offer cash if passenger prefers that.

If airline does manage to deliver you to the final destination within 2/3/4 hours depending on the type of the flight, the amount of cash can halved. I personally have never submitted such claim so don’t have any experience with it.

Are you still entitled to something if airline did take you to your final destination after all? Yes! If the delay was more than 3 hours, you should check your options!

Cancellations and Informing in Advance

In case of cancellations airline should inform you two weeks in advance. What if they didn’t or informed you during this period? The airline is also required to pay cash compensation as described below, unless one of the following conditions applies:

  • the airline notifies the passengers at least two weeks prior to departure
  • the airline notifies the passengers between one and two weeks prior to departure, and re-routes passengers so that they can:
    ⦁ depart no more than two hours earlier than scheduled, and
    ⦁ arrive no more than four hours later than scheduled
  • the airline notifies the passengers less than one week prior to departure, and re-routes passengers so that they can:
    ⦁ depart no more than one hour earlier than scheduled, and
    ⦁ arrive no more than two hours later than scheduled
  • the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances that could not have been avoided by any reasonable measure.

If the conditions have not been followed, you are entitled to some cash. But, if they warn you two weeks in advance, you have the right to choose one of the following:

  • re-routing to the same destination at the earliest opportunity (under comparable conditions);
  • later rerouting, at the passenger’s convenience, to the same destination under comparable conditions (subject to seat availability);
  • a refund of the ticket as well as a return flight to the point of first departure, when relevant.

Any ticket refund is the price paid for the flight(s) not used, plus the cost of flights already flown in cases where the cancellation has made those flights of no purpose. Where applicable, passengers are also entitled to refreshments, communication and accommodation as described below. Where re-routing is to another airport serving the same destination, the airline must pay for onward transport to the original airport or to a close-by destination agreed with the passenger. These choices, and the entitlement to refreshments, etc., apply to all cancellations, regardless of whether the circumstances are extraordinary or not.

Food, hotels and other extras

If you are waiting in line for your flight to be changed or waiting for the flight for a really long time (depending on the type of flight – 2/3/4 hours) you definitely should keep all of the food receipts. These will come in handy if the flight delay is described as in the regulation. There are some airlines that will give you food vouchers for specific cafes in the airport, others will give protein bars, tea or cash vouchers valid for any purchase in the airport. Sometimes those have really small value, and you might only be able to buy a cup of tea. Receiving a coupon worth a few euros doesn’t mean you must pay for the rest yourself! Normal amount of spending will be covered by the airline and you can include the copies of receipts when filling in the claim. It’s also the same with calls and emails. You can provide them with a call printout. Two emails in practice usually means that you can submit internet receipts if there is no free wifi available. If you need to spend additional night waiting for your flight, airline must provide you with a hotel and transfer to and from. If they don’t do it on the spot, you can claim these expenses later.

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If Airline Refuses to Pay

Write, Write Again!

If the airline refuses to pay, you should write again, point out why you disagree and invite them to explain which of the regulation sections supports their claim. Often upon the second letter the airline will agree to pay. It seems to be a kind of airline policy not to spend money. You can also seek help in the Consumer’s protection agency in the respective country of the incident, but most of the time these are quite useless. You can also take the airline to court, and many cases have been very successful.Recently a Latvian lady took the local charter company Smartlynx to court and they had to pay as well. So yes, charters are not exempt from paying!

What airlines will usually say when they decline and what to answer

The delay was due to technical issues which are extraordinary circumstances – this one is almost never the right answer and the airline is just trying to avoid paying you your money! Unless it was terrorism/sabotage or technical issue uncovered by manufacturer or responsible national supervisor, this is not considered out of airline control! All you need to do is respond to the airline that in C-549/07 Wallentin-Hermann vs Alitalia the court ruled technical problems are not extraordinary circumstances.

Using Intermediaries

I always recommend to write to the airline yourself first, as if you use a intermediary, they will take a fee for this, usually around 20-25% from the payout, so always submit the claim first yourself! Most of the time everything you must do is one email or one online form submission and perhaps, writing again if the first answer is negative and just wait. But, if after multiple attempts this does not work, you can use companies who specialize in this and will solve the cases for you.Usually they have nice websites where you can also check if you qualify for a refund, without actually using their services. Of course, you can also read at least the summary of the regulation on Wikipedia yourself.

If after numerous letters and complaints the airline still does not budge and you believe you are right, then you can use intermediaries.

My experience

At this moment I have submitted six claims based on the regulation. Two were my own, in the third case I am helping my relative and three were for my friends.

Case 1

My flight from Riga to Istanbul was delayed due to late arrival of the incoming aircraft, so I missed my connecting flight to Dubai and arrived 5 hours later than planned.

What I did:

  • when arriving to Istanbul I immediately went to info desk and got a letter from the airline proving that my flight was delayed. at first they offered to put me on a flight 24 hours later, which I did not accept and then they found a place on the next flight 5 hours later and I got a new ticket.
  • I asked the employee about food, and I was told to visit the coupon desk where I was given a voucher for a meal. If I was in this situation again, I would have just ordered what I wanted to eat, as standart meal was small, wasn’t tasty and there was little for me to eat due to dietary requirements. I could only get water and not even tea. Also, as there was no internet or phone given for me for calling, I bough internet access on the spot and tried to cancel the hotel booking for the night, unfortunately without success. Now I have a better insurance and might have claimed it through them.
  • when returning home I filled in a form on the Turkish Airlines website and added the receipt for the internet. I was entitled to 600 eur. A few days later a got a response that my claim was approved and I can choose between a voucher and cash. Also internet expenses were covered.
    If you ever fly in the opposite direction and wouldn’t qualify for EC compensation, Turkey has very similar provisions in the country with similar amounts of compensations.

Case 2

airBaltic cancels flight from Vilnius to Riga, offers to fly 6 hours later, which is not suitable for me, as I have to be there sooner for an event.

What I did:

  • at the check in counter try to find out what is the reason and are there alternatives to the flight 6 hours later. There is absolutely no information provided, clerk blames Riga office and says they can’t do anything at all. I ask to give me a phone number I can call, as I don’t agree to the option provided. They provide me with a Lithuanian number which doesn’t work. I find another number on my own online where an employee called Lolita (refuses to say her surname) says I can organize my own means of transportation which “they will pay for but she can’t guarantee that”.
  • I organize my own transport on the ground and buy a few snacks for the long way, keeping the receipt.
  • returning home I sent an email to customers@airbaltic.lv where I ask to compensate the alternative transport, food receipts and 250 eur based on the regulation. A few days later employee Olga S answers that they will cover the 250 eur compensation but not the food. Transport is not even mentioned in their email. In parallel I consult with a lawyer and expert on the regulation and I am told that they should cover the additional expenses. Alternative is to get this money from insurance, which I do. I also request money for the unused flight, as my delay was more than 5 hours and I could use this right as per regulation.

Case 3

Due to technical reasons Wizzair flight from Riga to Tel Aviv is delayed for over 4 hours and another aircraft is sent. Considering that such case is not extraordinary circumstance, as I have described above, claim can be submitted.

What I did:

  • as the case is for my relative, we wait for her to come back from her trip before filling in the documents
  • upon her return (but during 21 days, as recent court case in Latvia requested that to be done within 21 days and not 2 years as elsewhere in EU), I will in the online form. There are no food receipts to claim, as airline gave 4(!!!) eur vouchers to passengers for food, did not inform them of their rights and noone kept any receipts for additional expenses.
  • after 2 months and 1 week since the claim submission and numerous comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram reminding about my claim I finally got an answer saying that they will pay 400 eur compensation.

This point also answers a frequent question that I get, if you can claim funds from low cost airlines such as Ryanair and Wizzair. Yes, you can, low-costers are not exempt. if they are a EU carried or fly from EU, they must pay in case of problems.

Case 4

This example is a recent one where a friend was travelling on Lufthansa from Bucharest to Tallinn via Munich, and the first flight was delayed, which resulted in missing the connection and going home only on the next day.

What she did:

  • As the flights were connected, she went to see the staff at the airport, got a new ticket for the next day (there were no flights for the same day), god a voucher for hotel, dinner and breakfast.
  • Upon return home, upon my recommendation, read this article and filed a complaint on Lufthansa website for 400 eur.
  • 2 weeks later got the money.

The morale of this story is that even if you have never heard about EC 261/2004 regulation before, it should not be an obstacle to submit your first claim! Just read this article thoroughly, ask if you have any questions in the comments, and get your money!

Case 5

The flight Riga-Helsinki was delayed, so my friend missed her connection to Telaviv. She was given fouchers for food and provided with a hotel room while she waited for the next flight, 15 hours later, on the next day.

What she did:

  • Upon returning home, she submitted a claim to Finnair for 400 euros
  • Few days later they responded that the claim is accepted and will be paid out
  • A week later she gets the money

Case 6

Flight Vienna-Riga was delayed over 4 hours. It was the same day when the airline had to ground several of its airplanes due to manufacturers orders, but on this route at that time another plane was planned initially (it said so in the tickets).

What my friend did:

  • Upon returning home, wrote a complaint for 250 euros
  • For several weeks he did not hear back, so he called the information center of the airline
  • Finally he got an answer, but negative, stating that the plane he was supposed to fly on, had technical issues.
  • He sent a response citing Wallentin-Hermann case that technical issues are not extraordinary circumstances and he still wants 250 euros.
  • Few days later gets a positive response.
  • In 2 weeks gets the money.

Even if you have never written any kind of complaint in your life, you can do this, as it is very simple!

Other Compensation Cases

Damaged Luggage

It has happened to me a few times that my baggage is almost destroyed when it reached final destination. Broken zippers, torn-off handles, holes in the fabric, broken wheels and other issues. First step in such case is to go to Lost & Found desk at the airport and in most of the cases you will get a letter from them confirming damages and they will tell you where to fix your suitcase. Finnair sent me once to a specific repair shop in my hometown. Turkish Airlines once replaced a completely broken suitcase with a new one, on another occasion they sent my bag to Estonia to fix it (which took time) and gave me a small notebook as a present.

Airline may ask to indicate the age of the bag and this potentially might have an impact on them fixing it or not. Once I wanted to claim repairs from insurer but the cost of repairs would have been less than the self-risk payment.

Delayed or Lost Luggage

Usually airlines don’t do much for delayed bags. I have once gotten a check from Continental in the mail for about a 100 dollars and after long debates with British Airways also a few dollars on my account, Etihad gave me about 25 dollars per person when I was in Seychelles. Twice I have been offered T-shirt and tooth brush. Usually these things work only if the luggage is delayed when you go somewhere and not for the way home. Usually I submit a claim with insurance for things I need urgently. Many insurers state in their rules that they can ask you to return the items to them once your bag has arrived, but this hasn’t happened to me in practice. My luggage is delayed all the time and I have bought many things because of this – clothing (including underwear, nightgowns, even an evening gown as once as I had an important gala that evening, a winter coat, as mine was in the checked luggage, swimsuit for diving), cosmetics (shampoo, cream, make up and make up remover), shoes, chargers. You must keep receipts! Usually the insurance starts to work about 4 hours after the bag has been delayed. In case of total loss airline will offer a fixed amount to you. Sometimes in charters you can get additional money from the tour operator, I once got 120 eur in cash in Cuba that helped me a lot, as locals don’t give receipts and I couldn’t submit anything to insurnace.
Keep in mind that delayed bags must be delivered til your apartment door and not your house door.
Also, don’t check in valuables in yoru luggage, such as ipads, computers, jewlerry, photo equipment. If you want to use a lock, don’t use one that can be opened with a ballpen but buy one with fixed lock like this one:

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If Aircraft is Full and/or You are Denied Boarding

Most of the respectable airlines will look for volunteers to be bumped of to the next flight, but I usually see these cases abroad. When I flew back from Cuba a family of 4 stayed back for a few more days all expenses covered plus 800 cash for every person as flight was full. It is not unheard of to get even $1300 in USA, and of course, a seat on the next available flight. Sometimes this money is offered in vouchers, but sometimes you can get cash. Always ask if you can fly in business or first class because of this. There are people who even do this on purpose, and write instructions on how to get bumped to the next flight. If you are denied boarding involuntarily you get the same compensation as in the case of delayed flight.

Other Issues at the Airport

Once I couldn’t check in online due to system error and was asked to pay at the airport for checking in. I had a printscreen of the error message and claimed back my spent money.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately you can’t always trust everything that airlines say, must know your rights and use them. Airlines won’t just transfer you 250, 400 or 600 eur if you don’t ask!

Frequently Asked Questions

1.Can I submit claim for multiple people?

Yes, you can. If you are one family, you can ask for money to be transferred to one persons account. If you are not family members, I suggest providing bank details for the other person. I have submitted claims on behalf of others too.

2.Can I submit a claim for infant or child? Are they entitled to same amounts and care?

Yes! There is no reason why children or small children should not be entitled to compensation. You can claim the same amounts and same care applies.

3.My plain landed 2 hours and 58 minutes after original planned time, can I still claim?

Court case  Germanwings GmbH v. Ronny Henning C-452/13 specifies: “the concept of ‘arrival time’, which is used to determine the length of the delay to which passengers on a flight have been subject, refers to the time at which at least one of the doors of the aircraft is opened, the assumption being that, at that moment, the passengers are permitted to leave the aircraft. ” So yes, you can claim and you should, as it is extremely unlikely you were able to exit the airplane 2 minutes after it’s wheels touching the ground.

4.First segment of my flight was delayed, so I missed my connection. Which length of flights should I claim?

The total. So if you flew Frankfurt-Moscow-Seoul, you are entitled to 600 euros.

5.I flew from a city in EU to a city in EU via a non-EU country. Can I still claim?

Yes, if you flew Warsaw-Moscow-Tallinn, and one of the flights was delayed and you arrived late, you can claim, even if the airline is not EU airline. The total ticketed destination matters, and regulation is relevant for all airlines taking passengers from EU, even if they are not European airline.

The article was update 12/12/2017.


5 comments

    1. Thank you for commenting! If you ever need any help with submitting a claim, let me know 🙂 have a wonderful holiday season!

  1. I also received an 800 dollars check because the airline overbooked the flight from Toronto to Cuba and I had to be bumped onto the next one, 8 hours later. Indeed, if you don’t ask you don’t receive. I did ask about food and also for a card to call in Cuba to rearrange my airport transfer. I wouldn’t have got the extras if I wouldn’t have asked. My worse fight with an airline was when the airline lost my luggage on the way to my connecting flight towards Cuba, and they couldn’t find it for almost 2 months (yes, that was an unfortunate trip with loads of airline troubles). They wanted to compensate me with 80 euros. I fought for another 2 months with them for my rights and in the end they agreed to pay when I took them to the small claims court.

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