Some Airlines Must Pay Cash for Delays and Cancellations

What to Know




The Ott family’s European vacation spanned two mesmerizing weeks. And one bad night in London Heathrow International Airport.

“We slept on the floor of the airport,” said Pam Ott.

They were flying British Airways from Croatia to Morocco via London when a crew issue triggered a monster flight disruption.

“It was a seven hour delay,” she said.

The Otts missed their connecting flight as well as a prepaid tour the next day. They also wound up paying for the hotel room they couldn’t get to. In all, they were out $601. When Ott got back home, she asked British Airways for reimbursement.

“I waited a couple of weeks,” Ott said. “When they responded, they said, ‘No. Sorry. We don’t owe you anything.’”

So, she called NBC Bay Area Responds. We contacted British Airways. It offered $200 in vouchers.  “Better than what I got,” Ott said, “Which was nothing.”

But we knew Ott was due about $1,600 dollars more. Special rules cover European Union airlines — even U.S. airlines when they leave the EU. The regulation, called EU 261, requires cash payments up to $700 per passenger when certain flights are delayed or canceled. The amount varies based on how long a delay lasts, what caused it, and flight distance. You could get nothing.

But using British Airways’ own website, we figured BA owed Ott’s family of four $458 each — a total of $1,832. After our inquiry, that’s exactly what British Airways paid Ott.

 “It was amazing,” Ott said. “You guys did an amazing job.”  

We asked British Airways why it didn’t offer the Otts their full EU261 compensation from the start. It didn’t reply.

The Otts were unaware of their EU 261 rights. And they are not alone. A recent passenger poll found just 8% were aware of their EU 261 compensation rights. The poll was commissioned by, which helps passengers file claims, for a cut.

Because so few travelers are aware of their rights, Airhelp’s Johnny Quach says millions of people arrive late, incur expenses, and leave money on the table.

“Every single year, airlines are really not paying out even close to the amount of people they should be paying out to,” Quach said.

Airlines inform you of your EU 261 rights in the small type of your ticket contract. So, the onus is on you to know the rules and file a claim. If you’re just now hearing about this, don’t despair. Quach says you have three years after a flight to speak up. That means flights from 2016 are still eligible.

We recommend you look for an EU 261 page on your airline’s website. There’s also a universal form available from the UE government.

As for Ott, she’s eyeing the next family adventure. She’s determined to forget that night at Heathrow and remember her EU 261 rights.

“It’s a good policy, I just didn’t know it existed,” she said.

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