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What’s your worst travel nightmare? Missing a flight? Arriving late to the airport? How about flight delays and cancellations. Those are never fun.
What I love about having presence in social media is having the opportunity to exchange a wealth of information between me and my readers. Many of those who follow me on Instagram and are on my Facebook travel page have shared their firsthand experience from their travel redemptions, and most recently, travel compensation from their travel mishaps.
Here are two travel mishaps from two of my trusted travel colleagues, Michael Z, and Joel B. These are mishaps that disrupted their travels but they were compensated for when their flights were delayed or canceled.
Mike’s canceled flight to Amsterdam
Meet Regulation EU261
Joel’s trouble over London
It was ALMOST a perfect end-of-the-year escapade covering six countries in Southeast Asia—Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. This 24-day trip capped off a fantastic full rookie year in the miles and points game. The icing on the cake was the return flight on Singapore Airlines (SQ) A380 business class for the SIN-LHR 14.5-hour segment, and on United Airlines (UA) B767-300 Polaris for the LHR-EWR (roughly) 8-hour segment–both in one booking through Aeroplan.
The SQ flight from SIN-LHR went without a hitch. The LHR-EWR flight on UA was a different story. This flight took off right on time on December 27, 2023 at 6 PM London time. About 30 minutes into the flight and after the plane had reached the initial cruising altitude, the IFE’s and some of the cabin lights shut off abruptly. However, the power was restored within minutes.
After another 20 minutes had passed and while the flight attendants were preparing to serve the inflight dinner meal, the captain announced that the plane was having “some power generator issues.” He and his team of pilots had decided that it was “best to return the plane to Heathrow for everyone’s safety.” There was one problem though (well, the second problem): the plane took off with a full tank of gas so-to speak, and it was flying heavy. This meant that they had to dump some fuel while flying over the East Atlantic Ocean to reach the safe maximum landing weight before it can return and land at Heathrow; that process took about another hour and a half, and the plane landed safely at LHR around 9 PM. Fortunately, another UA flight with the same aircraft type, which just landed an hour prior, was parked at Heathrow for an overnighter. This plane was used as the replacement aircraft, which departed the gate at 10:45 PM—more than 4 hours pass the originally scheduled departure.
The plane landed in EWR on December 28, 2023 at 1:14 EST. However, due to the lack of ground crew availability to tow the plane currently parked at the gate of which our plane was designated to dock, we did not get to the gate until 1:45 AM. It was raining heavily when we landed.
The UA Crew
The pilots and the cabin crew kept the passengers informed at every turn from the time they announced the mechanical issue that the plane was having, until we landed, and through the boarding process for the new flight. Given the situation, the crew could not have handled it any better. Not a single soul was heard complaining.
As passengers were boarding, the cabin crew handed out the EU/UK 261 literature, which informs passengers of their rights for delayed or canceled flight or denied boarding. The lead flight attendant also announced several times before and during the flight, and shortly after landing at EWR that additional compensation (on top of the EU/UK 261 provisions) can be claimed as a result of the delayed flight departure and arrival. They served snacks frequently during the flight as they were unable to reload the inflight meals from the previous flight due to food safety reasons—the food had already been heated and over four hours had passed. There was no time to order new catering for the replacement flight.
More on EU/UK 261
Based on the situation we encountered with this flight, two explicit provisions for right to compensation were in consideration here under the EU/UK 261 rule: Subsection A, which specifies that passengers are entitled to receive £520 (for flights departing from the UK) if the flight is delayed by 3 or more hours and Subsection C, which stipulates the “Right to Care” provision of meals and refreshments in a reasonable relation to waiting time (United Airlines, 2023, p. 2).
A claim for compensation under subsection A is indisputable. However, the meal provision under subsection C did not apply. Under this rule, the airline “may limit or decline the right to care if the provision of care would itself cause further delay” (United Airlines, 2023, p. 2). As mentioned, there was no time to order a new meal catering, and doing so would further delay the flight.
Claim Filing Process
It is worth noting that United Airlines was very proactive in making it easy for us to file a claim. The EU/UK 261 literature that was handed out to us while boarding included the phone number and the website through which the claim can be filed. The address of the claims department was also indicated in the literature provided for those who may choose to file a written claim. Nevertheless, my wife and I received an email from United Airlines on the morning of December 28th, just as we were waiting to check-in for our flight to LAX. The email included an apology along with the link to the united.com/feedback site, which redirected me to the United Airlines Customer Care website. I signed in to my UA account and entered the confirmation/PNR number.
Scrolling down the bottom the page and looking from a list of specific topics/issues, I chose:
- Related to “international passenger rights” about “Europe/United Kingdom”
- The flight/segment with the corresponding PNR/Booking Number
- Affected passengers and form of payment
(Note that other options for payment included 50K MileagePlus miles and up to $1000 in travel certificate.)
In this same page was a narrative box through which I was directed to” I typed in concisely what happened in relation to the specific EU/UK261 provisions of which I was trying to get compensated.
There was an option to attach files or other documentation as part of the complaint. I chose to attach the screenshot of our flight tracking from FlightAware as proof indicating the flight diversion.
Next, I entered my address information and my email. After I clicked submit, I received a case ID number for a reference on the claim.
I filed the claim on New Year’s Eve as I was waiting for the clock to strike midnight. Shortly thereafter I received an email asking to confirm the address where the check will be sent. On January 3rd, I received an e-mail confirmation of compensation for me and my wife in the amount $ 656.45 each in the form of a check to be mailed to our address listed on the claim.
In addition to the above compensation, I also received an email on December 28th from customer care directing me to United Cares where a customer/ passenger can file a complaint or send a compliment.
Once I filled in the necessary information, I was directed to a page where additional compensation can be chosen—either an electronic travel certificate in the amount of $500 or 50K MileagePlus miles. We both chose the $500 e-certificate, which has a one-year expiration. After I made my compensation choice, I was directed to an “apology page,” which read:
On December 30th, my wife and I got an email that included the electronic travel certs, the redemption PIN code, and the promotion code.
The United Airlines pilots, cabin crew, and customer care department handled this situation extremely well. The service recovery process started from the moment the captain announced that the plane was returning to Heathrow to the cabin crew communicating frequently to the passengers and taking care of their needs, up to the point where the customer care department managed the compensation claims expeditiously. Most importantly, United Airlines got us home safe and sound, and with the travel e-certs, we have the opportunity to “fly the friendly skies” with this airline again.
Travel Trouble takeaways
If there were takeaways from Mike’s and Joel’s experience, it gave me faith in the system. They seemed to have followed the process as designed, they had their ducks in a row, provided the necessary documents, and simply let the process take its course.
None of us want to ever get our trips disrupted, especially when you truly need to be somewhere on a certain day and time. However, travels are never perfect. So it’s very important for you to know your rights, what you can do, what the airline can do, and perhaps what your travel protection and insurance can do to help you during these situations.
Many thanks again, Mike Z, and Joel B. for capturing your travels and how you were able to get yourselves compensated using EU261.
United Airlines. (2023). Notice of your rights for flights departing from the European Union and The United Kingdom in the event of a flight delay or cancellation or denied boarding (pp. 1-2).