|Iceland's Keflavik airport|
Most airlines would rather you not find out too easily about EC Regulation 261, commonly referred to as EU 261, granting passengers the right to seek compensation when they have experienced delayed (two to four hours or more), cancelled, or overbooked flights.
The policy applies to all airlines flying out of or within the EU and many non-EU countries, even U.S. based airlines. But few American travelers are familiar with this rule, and airlines are rarely pro-active in passing on this information.
Icelandair is the exception. Not only does it let passengers know of the policy via brochures labeled "Compensation and Assistance" stocked at all its counters inside Reykjavik's Keflavik's airport, it processes claims promptly and pays up quickly.
|Icelandair spells out passenger rights|
Less than a month after I submitted a claim for a seven-hour delay in a flight from Reykjavik to Rome in October, I received an email from the airline saying my claim had been approved. As per EU rules, the compensation totaled 600 euros ($648) each for my husband and me. We provided our bank account info as requested, and the cash was deposited the next day.
Icelandair made the application easy, providing a link to an online form that asked only for passenger details, date and time of the flight, ticket numbers and boarding pass information.
I received an immediate automated response saying the forms had been received, and a case number assigned. Two weeks later, I received another email thanking me for my patience and assuring me that processing was underway. One week later, I received the notice that we had been awarded the 600 euros each, based on an EU formula that takes into account the length of the delay and the destination.
The EU rule allows for a few exceptions, such as weather, strikes etc., but not technical problems or, as happened with our flight, changes due a shortage of aircraft or crew.
Had this happened in the United States, the airline would owe us nothing but an apology. There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when flights are delayed.
When it coms to the EU rules, the major U.S. airlines tend not to be as transparent as European-based carriers. Find all the information you need here to see if your delay or cancellation qualifies, and how to file a claim. Depending on the country, you have from one to three years to file a claim.
For a flight to be eligible for compensation under EU 261, it must be either departing from a Member State—one of the 27 EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as most outlying territories—or departing from a nonmember country with a destination within a Member State.
The rule includes flights departing from the EU to the U.S. (but not from the U.S. to the EU) and some other countries and even connecting flights within the U.S. operated by U.S. partners of EU airlines. This means that any U.S. domestic flight booked through an EU airline on a single itinerary will be covered by the law.
You can try finding the same information on your airline's website, but a simple search for "EU 261" turns up nothing on most U.S. carriers.
United is an exception. Type "EU 261" in the search window and this link comes up, along with instructions on how to file a claim.
British Airways publishes the information here. American Airlines makes the rule easy to find on its UK booking site, but not on its US. site. Delta hides the information under the obscure title of Exit European Union (EU) Compensation Request
Keep in mind that whether the airline makes the process easy or difficult, you can be confident that if you have a qualifying flight, you will eventually be compensated. The EU has strict penalties in place for airlines that don’t comply with this regulation. And although an airline might offer a voucher, the law says you are entitled to cash.