A newly released study from AirHelp reveals that the vast majority of U.S. travelers remain completely unaware of their rights when flying.
In fact, while more Americans understand their rights than in previous years, the new study found that a staggering 81 percent of travelers remain uninformed and often leave hundreds of dollars each year in the hands of airlines.
Under European law EC 261, airlines are required to inform travelers of their rights and are obligated to pay passengers compensation of up to $700 for many types of air travel disruptions, AirHelp explained.
But despite airlines‘ legal obligation to properly communicate rights to travelers, Americans’ lack of awareness continues to be a major issue, the company said. Here are some key points:
—Only 55 percent of Americans who have been on a disrupted flight and thought their flight disruption was eligible have gone through the process of filing for compensation, making U.S. passengers 22 percent less likely than European flyers to file claims.
AirHelp said this disparity is not surprising given that air passengers have better protections in the EU than in the United States.
—Nearly half (45 percent) of Americans who think they’re eligible for compensation never file claims.
“Air passengers across the globe are constantly being mistreated by the airlines, and most travelers are not even aware of how they can fight back and be compensated when they are taken advantage of,” said Christian Nielsen, AirHelp’s chief legal officer.
Here’s another tip for travelers everywhere, courtesy of AirHelp: accepting a voucher or cash offer from an airline when a problem occurs is not necessarily the best course of action.
“Taking vouchers may seem easier, however, these can often have expiration dates or terms that make them less valuable than the compensation they are eligible to claim,” says the new AirHelp study. “Furthermore, the cash passengers are entitled to is almost always of a higher value than the voucher.”
Regardless, nearly one quarter (24 percent) of Americans have fallen prey to this and accepted an airline’s offer of vouchers or food instead of getting the cash they are owed, said AirHelp.
The majority of travelers who do not file claims (60 percent) have not done so because they’re unaware of their rights.
Another 42 percent have not filed claims because they don’t think the airline would listen, and 48 percent did not believe they were entitled, showing that Americans‘ trust in the airlines is extremely weak and that the airline industry must work harder to make travelers better informed and more trusting.
“We are glad to see that more travelers are aware of their rights in the United States than in 2018, but the airline industry has a responsibility to better treat the travelers that are keeping it in business,“ said Nielsen. “We have seen countless problems in the airline industry over this past year from airlines going belly up and leaving passengers stranded, to creating unsafe aircraft and even delaying flights for more than 24 hours. EC 261 is extremely valuable in protecting travelers, and we must continue to educate travelers and help them exercise their rights.”
Delays of Three Hours or More
For delays of more than three hours that are eligible under EC 261, you may be entitled to claim up to $700 in compensation, although you won’t get refunded for your ticket in these instances, said Zillmer.
While 92 percent of Americans have traveled by air, about half (55 percent) of travelers have not had an airline communicate their rights to them during the flight disruption, according to AirHelp.
Flight Delays of Five Hours or More
If your flight is eligible under EC 261 and you experience a delay of five hours or longer, you’re entitled to a full or partial refund of your original ticket, if needed, in addition to compensation of up to $700, according to AirHelp.
On flights originating in the United States, if the delay at your final destination, compared to your originally scheduled arrival time, is between one and four hours, you may be able to get compensated as much as 200 percent of your one-way fare, but not exceeding $675.
In general, 67 percent of travelers were never informed about their rights by an airline.
So what are your rights as an air traveler?
Under European law EC 261, passengers may be entitled to financial compensation of up to $700 per person in the case of flight disruptions, cancellations or denied boarding.
And to be clear, this covers passengers on flights to the EU on an EU airline or out of the EU. It’s also worth noting that you have up to three years after an incident to file a claim.
“Airlines are only exempt from this obligation if the disruption was caused by an extraordinary circumstance such as weather, political unrest, or air traffic control issues,” said the AirHelp study.