US airlines wrongfully reject over 25% of their passengers’ compensation claims

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Consumer rights advocacy group released the results of a new study showing that United States airlines wrongfully reject more than 25% of compensation claims, indicating that more than one in five travelers are being denied up to $700 they are owed by Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and American Airlines following flight disruptions.

Each year, more and more travelers flying out of the U.S. are eligible to claim compensation under European law EC 261 which covers travelers on European flights. AirHelp found more than 25% of valid claims filed against U.S. airlines for disrupted flights in 2016, 2017 and 2018 were turned away on wrongful grounds by airlines trying to avoid their obligation to travelers.

The travel experience is continuously getting worse due to overtourism. In the U.S., 407,000 travelers are eligible to claim compensation under EC 261 following flight delays and cancellations experienced last year, up from 370,000 the previous year. During the first three months of 2019, more than 75,000 passengers experienced disruptions due to the fault of the airlines that have made them eligible for compensation.

This trend is a small part of the larger issue of airlines mistreating passengers. A survey of travelers found 75% of U.S. travelers feel uninformed about their air passenger rights, and less than 25% of travelers who were on a disrupted flight actually file a claim, despite airlines being required by law to inform passengers of their rights.

How the U.S. Airlines Stack Up

Of the U.S. airlines, Delta Air Lines wrongfully rejects the most claims at a rate of one in three. United Airlines wrongfully rejects nearly one in four claims, and American Airlines rejects one in every five. According to an annual ranking of global airlines and airports, U.S. airlines’ unsurprisingly perform poorly, with each major carrier earning less than seven out of 10 for quality of service.

The most popular U.S. airlines ranked on wrongfully rejected claims rate

United States ranking Global ranking for wrongfully rejected claims rate

Airline Wrongfully rejected claim rate

1 32 Delta Air Lines 32%
2 42 United Airlines 23%
3 44 American Airlines 22%

Data from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018

“The bleak picture in the U.S. is just the tip of the iceberg. The volume of legitimate passenger claims being wrongfully rejected by airlines is appalling. Flight delays and cancellations are increasingly heaping chaos on passengers, and travelers are forced to fight airlines for compensation they’re rightfully owed,” says Henrik Zillmer, CEO of AirHelp. “It’s all very well for airlines to say they will compensate passengers who make their claim directly. The reality is that thousands of passengers are continuing to face an impossible struggle to claim the money they’re entitled to. If they are embroiled in a legal battle with an airline, passengers may face costs to hire a lawyer to push through their claim, which can make fighting for compensation virtually impossible.”

U.S. Passenger Rights

U.S. passengers are protected under EC 261 for flights to the EU on an EU airline, and any flight departing from the EU. Cancelled flights, delays of more than three hours, and incidents of denied boarding are covered under EC 261, as long as the disruption was not caused by extraordinary circumstances such as weather, sabotage or political unrest. Eligible passengers may be entitled to financial compensation of up to $700 per person, and can file claims up to three years after the incident occurs.

Travelers have fewer protections on domestic U.S. flights, but can claim up to $1,350 in compensation for denied boarding due to overbooking, depending on the value of the ticket fare and ultimate delay in arrival to their final destination

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