May 28, 2018
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Airline PR seldom covers flight delays

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast CONTACT

There’s a small category of humor involving airlines. A favorite involves the prelanding announcement: “Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than West Jet Airlines.”

That’s one example from a long list of anecdotes; few deal with delays. That’s probably not surprising, since delays steal the humor from just about everyone and everything. Differences in the ways airlines deal with delays are worth noting, and things change a lot depending on location and airline.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in January just over 76 percent of flights were on time. The 12-month average ending in January was closer to 80 percent. Figures for each airline differed, and it’s probably fair to say that January’s higher than average delay rate had a lot to do with weather.

In the U.S., there’s no law requiring compensation for delays. Maybe there should be; or, maybe not. In the United Kingdom, Ryanair is today beginning a two-euro “compensation levy” on each ticket it sells. That surcharge is supposed to offset the compensation plan devised years ago by the European Union. It’s a tiered system, with compensation ranging from free meals and phone calls to overnight accommodations. If delays are five hours or longer, passengers can get a full refund and flights back to their points of departure.

Ryanair calls the plan “unfair and discriminatory,” although it’s unclear why it discriminates if it applies to all airlines experiencing delays on flights serving EU nations. Ryanair might have a better case for “unfair”; still, imposing a “compensation levy” while appearing to keep its “discount” prices the same could earn the carrier some other labels.

In Canada, an air traveler’s bill of rights has been the law of the land since 2008. If they’re stranded on a tarmac for more than 90 minutes, passengers can deplane. The airlines must keep the passengers informed of scheduling options and give them meal vouchers after four hours and hotel vouchers if the delay reaches eight hours.

In the U.S., we’re still waiting for some real guarantees that air travelers have rights. Bills in Congress have faced strong opposition from the Air Transport Association, the industry’s biggest lobbying group. The association reported airline revenues up 13 percent in February, the 14th straight month of increases, suggesting most of us will keep flying.

The DOT notes that delays are common and they snowball during the day. Booking an early flight can help prevent this “ripple” effect and offer more rescheduling options. If you’re not pressed for time, book extra early; you may be willing to trade a bump for whatever compensation a particular airline provides (the only case in which compensation is mandated in the U.S.).

A series of connecting flights may be cheaper than a direct flight, but you may feel the extra expense of a direct flight is worth avoiding the changes. Consider how weather might cause delays and whether making connections through a particular airport might avoid some of those delays.

Always check the time between flights and assess the consequences if the first leg of your trip is delayed; if delay means problems, rebuild your travel plans. Next week, with many school vacations coming up, we’ll look at the kinds of insurance for added peace of mind.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to, or email

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