7   +   9   =  

What did you really lose out on?

When flights are delayed or cancelled, air passengers naturally want to even the score with the airline in the wrong. No one enjoys being inconvenienced or having their time wasted, and in some parts of the world, stringent laws exist to punish airlines for such issues. In the European Union, a simple delayed landing of three hours or more on a long haul flight commands €600 in compensation for each passenger. That’s not vouchers, it’s real money – and in many cases, it’s more than the people paid for their tickets in the first place. And on top of it all, the airline still must transport you! But is it ethical to always claim this money?

A Potential Case For No

Traveler A pays $300 round trip for their ticket from London to New York. Their flight is scheduled to get in at 10PM and the passenger has absolutely no plans for the evening other than to rest. They are made aware of the delay before even leaving for the airport, allowing extra time at home or the office before their journey. They don’t sit for hours waiting in an airport, their timetable is simply shifted. Yes, they arrive in New York at 1AM instead of 10PM, but hotels are open 24 hours nowadays anyway. All they lose out on is an extra hour or two of sleep. Is it ethical for them to profit to the tune of $417, while still getting to their destination?

A Potential Case For Yes

Traveler B has an important client meeting in Los Angeles and their flight from Paris is pushed back due to mechanical issues by 3 hours. This delay causes Traveler B to miss out on a crucial piece of business, potentially costing thousands, even millions in damage to their business. The traveler was not made aware in advance, and is forced to sit at the airport for hours on end just waiting for a solid answer. This traveler has been forced to waste time in unsuitable conditions and loses out. That €600 feels like the least the airline can do.

Another Potential Case For No

Traveler C used points for a one way flight from Hong Kong to Zurich on a European Airline. Their flight is cancelled, but the original airline issues a new ticket for the passenger, with an upgrade for the next flight, getting them in five hours late. The passenger had no specific business, plans or other things to forgo. The airline has tried to be polite by offering an upgrade worth hundreds at the least. Is it ethical to accept the upgrade, and profit from the flight, knowing you’ve realistically only lost out on hours which had no intended purpose?

Another Potential Case For Yes

Traveler D is flying from Amsterdam to Boston, connecting on to a wedding in Philadelphia. The Amsterdam to Boston flight forces the passenger to miss their connecting flight, which was the last of the day. U.S. airlines do not issue free hotel vouchers in most cases, and the passenger is forced to now spring for their own hotel for the night, dinner and everything else. There’s no guarantee they’ll be compensated. Not only that, they’re going to be late for the wedding now. This seems like a clear cut case where these compensation measures are crucial.

The Bigger Picture

I think it’s far better to err on the side of protecting passengers, than abandoning them – which is the case in the United States. Passengers in the U.S. have virtually no protection, rights or compensation guarantees during delays. But if everyone jumps on the gravy train, just because they can, it makes it harder for airlines to invest in new planes, new technology, better seats and all the things which make them competitive in the first place. The more of a relationship you have with an airline, the more this seems like a judgement call. Who wouldn’t want €600 in the pocket? But what’s the real cost? Since many regions don’t require this level of compensation, taking every possible allowed claim could make the airlines of a region less competitive than others, where passengers are entitled to jack.

But Airlines Have Themselves To Blame

Airlines make it so difficult to claim said compensation, that even if you don’t really want it – by the time they put you through the full ringer – you really want it. I can’t help but feel that if the process was more transparent and fair – rather than automatically denying all claims first time – passengers may feel less dug in about sticking it to them. Of course, if it was easy, perhaps everyone would claim and airlines would go bankrupt. There’s a balance, and it’s certainly a tricky one.

What’s your take?