Last weekend, some 250 passengers on a United flight headed to Hong Kong from Newark, New Jersey lived every traveler’s worst nightmare; After making an unplanned stop at a Canadian airport for a medical emergency, passengers were left stranded on a tarmac for nearly 14 hours.
“Please help us,” Sonjay Dutterson, a professional wrestler and passenger on the flight, tweeted during the extreme delay. “This is an emergency @united. People are not doing well. Running low on food.”
Passengers were transferred to another airplane and eventually arrived back at Newark airport. They were treated to compensation, meals, and hotel accommodations from United representations shortly thereafter. But in similar (or less extreme) versions of this situation, when are you ultimately entitled to a refund or compensation?
First things first, tarmac delays and delays when you’re seated at an airport are treated differently.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website, most U.S. airlines are prohibited from keeping you on a tarmac for three hours or longer, unless the pilot has determined there is a safety or security issue or your flight would disrupt overall airport operations.
This means you’re very likely to receive compensation from any airline if you’re on a tarmac for a lengthy period of time. (If you’re on stranded on a tarmac, you’re also entitled to some much-needed food and water no later than two hours after the delay begins).
For general flight delays, the rules differ from airline to airline. If you’re curious about your specific airline’s rules, you can do an online search for an airline’s ‘contract of carriage’ listed on their website. These contracts spell out your rights, though they are notoriously vague—if they can get out of compensating you for anything, they’ll do their best to do it.
Luckily, there are a few things you’re entitled to, barring some issues outside of airlines’ control (like bad weather conditions):
If you’re flying through the European Union, you may also be in luck. The EU has an extensive passenger bill of rights for matters like delays. Want to know how much you’re owed? Use AirHelp to find out your rights and claim your compensation on the EU’s website here.