A Canceled Flight Made Me Happy
I consider myself a pretty flexible traveler. I prepare for long travel days with a book in hand, comfortable shoes, and snacks in my bag. I can deal with long security lines and weather delays, but for a few years, I felt deflated about my rights as an air traveler.
Until I had a canceled flight and found my traveling optimism again.
After a few bad experiences, I tended to think that you just checked your rights at the airplane door when you bought a ticket.
I’ve been put on the standby list when flying solo around Christmas — for both flights — despite having booked the ticket months ahead of time. I didn’t know whether I would get on my transatlantic flights until a few minutes before scheduled takeoff.
I’ve shown up at the airport only to have my flight canceled a few hours later because of a freak snowstorm. I had to turn around, travel two hours home, and repeat the process a few days later.
And in the days of Wow Airlines and extremely cheap transatlantic flights via Iceland, I flew without access to free drinking water, which should be a basic human right when flying across an ocean.
My expectations became very low for air travel, but recently, my attitude changed drastically related to passenger rights within the European Union.
I experienced the first glimmer of hope when my partner’s flight was delayed by four hours. He found out before he left home for the airport, so we grabbed a few extra hours of sleep and had a leisurely coffee. Later, his boss explained that he could claim compensation for the long delay. He did and the airline deposited €600 into his bank account. Cha-ching! 💰
Fast forward five months and my transatlantic flight was canceled coming back from the United States in December 2019. I tried the same trick myself.
The information on compensation is available, but not the easiest to find if you don’t know you are entitled to compensation in the first place.
Buried at the very end of the cancellation email is a vague note about your rights in case of cancellation. This leads to a brochure showing how much money you get based on the length of your delay and the length of your flight, but there is no direct link to request this money. Ultimately, you have to search the airline’s website to find out how to make the request, log in to find your booking, and complete the request form.
I found the process convoluted, but I followed the breadcrumbs to the end. It is worth it.
If your arrival is delayed more than three hours for a transatlantic flight, you are entitled to €600 cash or, in KLM’s policy, an €800 voucher for SkyTeam flights.
Not only that, but the compensation is based on the ticket number. I traveled with an infant in my lap who was assigned a different ticket number. I applied for compensation for both of us and was awarded two €800 vouchers. (I was planning additional plane trips within the next year, so that option made the most sense for my situation.)
In the end, I made money on this trip. I received €1,600 in vouchers and only paid €473 for my original tickets.
I don’t feel bad about making money off of this flight. I talked to a steward on the rescheduled flight and he told me that an airplane in the airline’s fleet had a maintenance issue. They decided that the Washington-Amsterdam flight was the most cost-effective to cancel. It only makes sense that passengers should be compensated for the inconvenience of this business decision.
I finally feel like I have some of my rights back, even if only for EU flights.
It almost makes you want to be delayed. Well, almost…
So what can you learn from my experience? Here are some simple tips for your next EU flight:
- Make sure you know who operates your flight. Compensation is based on the operator, not the airline you buy your ticket through.
- Book an EU-operated flight for maximum rights. If you’re flying to the EU from outside, you are only covered for that leg if it is an EU-operated flight. For flights out of the EU or within the EU, you’re always covered, no matter the operator.
- Delayed for 3+ hours or have a canceled flight? Check with the airline to see if you’re entitled to compensation. Weather delays do not qualify.
- To know more about your rights, check out this informational website.