Let’s start this off with a little gratitude: Flying is a thrill. It’s a helluva privilege. And it’s a truly unbelievable thing—something we have to remind ourselves of constantly as we sit in that (hopefully) sanitized fabric seat, our knees screaming for an inch of movement, and our eyes shifting continually over to that hot coffee placed precariously on that flimsy tray. Really, the ultimate goal when flying is to try not to think of that industrially made bird your trapped in as a strange, stale, claustrophobic purgatory between departure and destination. No, this plane is doing something downright miraculous. (Louie C.K. expresses this in a far funnier way.)
But this doesn’t mean airlines should have free reign to take advantage of said miracle. Yes, their #1 priority damn well better be safety. And, yes, travelers expect there to be delays, cancellations, and unforeseen circumstances when dealing with big chunks of manmade metal navigating the stratosphere. When these annoyances inevitably arise, we remind ourselves that patience is a virtue—and so are overpriced airport bars. Complaints—and maybe even a resolution to never use that damn airline again—are aired, and that’s usually the end of it. Because many of us don’t realize we’re legally entitled to more.
But we are! And I found this out after dealing with multiple delays, a cancellation, and some truly apathetic customer service from Air Canada. In my quest for some type of compensation after being in airport limbo for three-plus days, I stumbled upon a start-up called AirHelp. In a nutshell, they took on the legal legwork and I was rewarded with a check to the tune of nearly half the price of my international ticket. Here’s the deal, summed up by TechCrunch:
“For a delayed, canceled or overbooked flight in Europe, you can get up to $800 per flight. In the U.S., you could end up with $1,300 for an overbooked flight. That’s why airlines will fight you very hard not to give you your money back. According to AirHelp, only 0.1 percent of eligible passengers get their compensation.”
On AirHelp’s homepage, this is their promise: “If you’ve been on a delayed or cancelled flight or been denied boarding within the last three years you could be entitled up to $800 from the airline.” And, from my experience, they come through. Working with AirHelp was such a seamless and smooth process that I had to spread the love here. Sure, they take a hefty 25% cut, but it was far better than what Air Canada had offered me, which was nothing but a meal ticket (a measly $10) that didn’t even cover a full breakfast at the Toronto Airport.
Even after writing a lengthy email to Air Canada’s customer service intricately describing our bad experience—which included a cancellation on a flight from Athens to Toronto; a lengthy, hot bus ride to a hotel straight out of Caddyshack; limited communication as to when the next flight would be available; another three-hour delay once that flight was available; an overnight stay at the Toronto airport; and a whole lot of bad attitudes from every Air Canada employee we crossed—they only offered an apology, but not before saying this:
“While we make every effort to operate our flights as scheduled, regretfully, delays and cancellations occur sometimes. Most passengers will accept the inconvenience and understand that their safe travel must always be our first priority.”
That last sentence—that’s a problem. People quietly (and frustratingly) accept it because they’ve been made to think there are no other options other than accepting a crappy, half-paid airport meal. But as any elementary social studies class will teach, a broken system doesn’t change without a few squeaky wheels to raise attention and demand something better and fairer. Now, if those squeaky wheels happen to be attached to an airplane, by all means, airlines, delay that flight and fix them—and then have a Plan B. Otherwise, you’re legally obligated to pay up, and services like AirHelp are there to make sure of it.