Traveler’s rights after Hurricane Florence? There’s an app for that

  Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Hurricane Florence has hit the Carolinas, and airlines have been canceling flights to, from, or through the region. With catastrophic flooding and destructive winds, many travelers heading to the airport across the U.S. are experiencing extreme flight disruptions. And with so many passengers being rebooked, post-storm flights may get more overbooked than usual, which leads to bumping.

The good news is AirHelp, an air passenger rights company, helps travelers get compensation from airlines when their flights are delayed, canceled, or overbooked. AirHelp was founded in 2013, and has helped more than seven million people worldwide to process airline compensation claims worth almost $930 million in total reimbursement. Currently, AirHelp has offices across the world, is available in 30 countries, offers support in 16 languages, and employs more than 500 people globally. 

AirHelp originated as a Y Combinator backed startup with plans to end flying woes once and for all. In 2016, AirHelp closed a $12 million Series A, with investment made from Khosla Ventures, Evan Williams, Naval Ravikant, Jimmy Maymann, U-Start and Galvanize Ventures, some of which have also invested in Skype and Twitter.

While U.S. airlines are not liable under EU regulation EC 261 and other similar air passenger laws to pay compensation for flight disruptions considered to be an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ such as weather, the airline does have an obligation to offer travelers assistance, including free food and drink, overnight accommodation if required, two phone calls and access to emails, CEO Henrik Zilmer writes to FreightWaves by email.

Passengers are eligible for these rights if:

●      They’re delayed by two hours and are travelling 1,500 km or less

●      They’re delayed by three hours and travelling on an internal EU flight over 1,500 km

●      They’re delayed by three hours and travelling on a non-internal EU flight between 1,500 km – 3,500 km

●      They’re delayed by four hours and travelling on a non-internal EU flight over 3,500 km

In some cases, airlines will rebook passengers for new flights if their original flight is canceled due to weather. This could entitle U.S. air travelers to claim compensation if they are denied boarding due to overbookings. Because if this new flight is overbooked, and a traveler is bumped because the airline oversold seats, they can claim compensation up to $1,350, depending on the value of their ticket fare and ultimate delay in arrival to the final destination. If the length of a traveler’s delay to their destination compared to the original flight is more than two hours for domestic flights, or four hours for international flights, travelers are entitled to 400% of one-way fare, but not to exceed $1,350.

Because the United States has few air passenger rights law compared to other nations, U.S. air passengers do not receive the same amount of returns as European travelers, but AirHelp is a one-stop shop from the otherwise infuriating experience of running through the airline phone mill. While EC 261 covers U.S. travelers flying to and from the EU on an EU airline carrier, there are limited protections for U.S. passengers if they are denied boarding. If you are flying domestically, when you are “bumped” from your flight because the airline oversold seats, you can also claim compensation. This does not fall under European law EC 261, but rather U.S. national law.  

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.