Q: My wife and I recently flew from Paris to Washington, D.C., on United Airlines. The original flight was delayed for three and a half hours while passengers were waiting in line with their boarding passes, and eventually canceled.
We were rebooked on the next available flight the following morning. The United service desk provided notice of an EU regulation that said we were due compensation of 600 euros each.
We both submitted requests to United for the compensation, including the requested supporting documentation. To date, we have received no response from United, other than an automated acknowledgment that we submitted the form. I have been unable to reach United’s customer care, despite several phone calls and being put on hold for 50 minutes until the line went dead.
We would like help in getting United to process our request and provide compensation. If United will not respond, we would like to know how best to pursue compensation with the EU regulatory authorities or with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
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Steven Brenner, Bethesda, Maryland
A: United should have compensated you promptly. But the claims process can take weeks, months or, in some cases, even years.
You’re dealing with a European consumer regulation called EU 261, which requires airlines operating within the EU to compensate passengers during a delay. For a delay of three and a half hours, it requires a 600 euro compensation. It doesn’t say how quickly United should pay up, though.
EU 261 can be a little confusing, and airlines take full advantage of that. So it’s not uncommon to receive one of the leaflets that say you’re entitled to compensation and then never receive it. I publish a handy guide on EU 261 on my consumer-advocacy site (http://elliott.org/frequently-asked-questions-about-eu261/).
You could have reached out to the Transportation Department, but I’m not sure if that would have done you much good. EU 261 is a European law, enforced by European aviation authorities. The DOT has limited jurisdiction, and probably would have forwarded your complaint to United.
You also might have contacted a third party that specializes in EU 261 refunds, like Airhelp.com or Refund.me, but there’s no guarantee the company would be able to get a faster resolution, and it would take a cut of your compensation as a commission.
I’m confident that United eventually would have sent you the compensation to which you were entitled. You could have sent the airline a gentle reminder by email – I list the names, numbers and email addresses of United’s customer-service executives on my advocacy site (elliott.org/company-contacts/united-airlines).
I contacted United on your behalf, and it cut you and your wife checks for 600 euros each.
Email Christopher Elliott at email@example.com.