Thousands of flights are delayed every year, and the situation is never fun. When flights are delayed, the cost to passengers and the airlines that carry them is considerable. Delayed flights, missed connections, and people who give up on air travel cost airlines and passengers more than $28 billion annually, explains the Federal Aviation Administration. Can you recoup some of that money?

Can an Airline Carrier Be Forced to Reimburse You for a Delayed Flight?

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Under current federal laws, airline carriers in the United States are not required to compensate ticket holders when flights are delayed. This is not to say that reimbursement is impossible. Depending on the policy of your carrier, you may be given partial compensation in the form of a free meal or a hotel room. The best way to ensure this happy outcome is to familiarize yourself with the refund policies of your chosen airlines, explains USA Today.

What Does the DOT Say About Delayed Flights?

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According to the US Department of Transportation, there are a range of reasons why a flight might take off later than scheduled. Some situations, such as bad weather, mechanical failure, and air traffic are leading causes of delayed flights and beyond the control of airline carriers. It's also difficult for airline employees to accurately predict how long such delays will last.

The DOT also notes that each air carrier writes its own rules regarding if and how passengers will be compensated in the event of a lengthy delay. Additionally, there are no federal regulations in place regarding what airlines should do while passengers are stuck waiting for a scheduled flight to finally embark from the airport.

Tarmac Delays

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Once all passengers and crew have boarded and are inside an aircraft, the plane must leave the tarmac no more than three hours after the plane is boarded, explains the DOT. The only way this rule can bend is if the pilot ascertains safety or security issues that prevent him or her from taxiing back to the terminal to release passengers. A delayed plane may be allowed to sit on the tarmac more than three hours if air traffic control advises the pilot that returning to the terminal and letting off passengers would create a significant disturbance in airport operations.

One good thing everyone needs to know about domestic delays that happen on the tarmac is that airline carriers are required to keep the aircraft lavatories open and functioning during the entirety of the delay. Medical attention must also be available to passengers if needed. After two hours sitting on the tarmac, airlines are also required to start passing out free water and food to waiting passengers.

How Can You Make Sure That Your Flight Won't Be Delayed?

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In truth, you can't do that, but you may want to take a peek at the detailed flight delay map that is proffered by the FAA. Statuses shown on the informative map include delays of fewer than 15 minutes, taxi and tarmac delays of 16 to 45 minutes, and airborne holding delays of up to 45 minutes. Departure taxi delays of more than 45 minutes, arrivals experiencing extended holding delays, and closed airports are also mentioned on the map.

Lessen Your Chance of a Delayed Flight

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If you book a ticket on an early flight , you boost your chances of taking off on time in a big way. On the off chance that an early morning flight is delayed, you'll also have more options to seek out another carrier that is going to the same destination airport.

Select an airline with a relatively good on-time record, and you may boost your chances of taking off on time. According to passenger advocate AirHelp, Aeromexico and American Airlines rank higher than other carriers in the U.S.

Try This

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The DOT advises passengers who are experiencing a lengthy delay to search for another carrier who offers a flight to the same destination. If you find a flight, call the carrier and ask if passenger space is still available on the aircraft. If there are available seats, ask the carrier you were planning to travel with if they will endorse your ticket on a different carrier. If they will, consider it a nice bonus, because U.S. air carrier companies are not legally bound to do anything to reimburse passengers when scheduled flights are delayed.

Delayed European Travelers Fare Better

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If your flight to or from a European Union (EU) destination is delayed, you stand a far better chance of being compensated than if your flight flew in U.S. airspace alone. Every year, millions of passengers are entitled to reimbursement for a late or canceled flight, but fewer than two percent of them understand how to ask for compensation. That's why AirHelp assists passengers in knowing — and enacting — their rights under a 2004 law called EC 261.

According to AirHelp, passengers who qualify are entitled to monetary compensation if a scheduled flight for which they checked in on time was delayed by three or more hours due to operational or technical difficulties on the part of the airline. Likewise, ticket-holding passengers may collect up to €600 ($700) if their flight is canceled or if they are denied boarding because of overbooking.

What's extra cool about this relatively new rights law is that passengers are allowed to file a claim for delayed flights already completed, as long as the flight or flights in question occurred within the previous three years.

It is worth noting that EC 261 is written to protect passengers, not airlines. And, in the event of a flight delay, it is the passenger, not the person or company who paid for the ticket, who is entitled to reimbursement, explains AirHelp.