Why won’t United Airlines compensate me for my delay?

United Airlines promises Steven Brenner 600 euros after his flight from Paris to Washington is delayed and then canceled. Why won’t it pay him?

Question: 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. — Steven Brenner, Bethesda, Md.

Answer: 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.

Related story:   When you ask for too much, your rightful claim can be overlooked

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, but then never see the money. I publish a handy guide on EU 261 on my advocacy site .

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.
I contacted United on your behalf, and it cut you and your wife checks for 600 euros each.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • sirwired

    I wonder how long the OP waited?

    When I filed a 600EUR EU 261 with American, it was exactly 30 days from my submission before I got the form back approving my request, and asking how I wanted my compensation and where to send it. I submitted that form the next day, and they mailed the check two weeks later.

  • MarkKelling

    Just curious, was the check actually for 600 EUR or did they convert it to USD first?

  • sirwired

    They did indeed cut the check in USD, even though the form only talked about EUR. I don’t remember the exact rate they used, but it appeared to be the standard inter-bank rate on the day the check was cut.

  • Pegtoo

    My experience with Air Canada went fairly smoothly also. Thanks to advice from these forums to specifically cite EU261 and the compensation I was expecting. We were emailed a form offering a choice of the cash or a 30% bonus if we would accept airline credit. We wanted the cash.

  • The Original Joe S

    Gimme the MONEY! Ha ha ha!

  • The Original Joe S

    Untied! Masters at baiting you and failing to deliver!

  • cscasi

    I have had really good luck with United over the years. It changed the aircraft type on us one time, but in compensation, United’s gate agent put us in the upgraded seats in the front portion of economy (whatever those are called these days) and we were happy with that. So, not everyone has bad things ot say about United.

  • Lindabator

    the system takes 30 days – wondering if he jumped the gun here

  • The Original Joe S

    Yeah? How come it ain’t INSTANTANEOUS?
    You get a refund in a store – immediate credit to your credit card. Why do these dirtbags keep your money for a month or more?

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