If you’ve yet to experience a delayed flight, then either you’ve rarely had the pleasure of flying or you’ve been incredibly fortunate. Flight delays, or even cancellations, occur because of bad weather, perhaps a malfunctioning aircraft, or possibly because the airways have been congested – this last point is sometimes the reason that is provided to passengers, anyhow. Go figure… So, if you are stuck in an airport for hours, do you have any rights for some level of recompense?


Few Rights

Travellers on S.A. domestic flights have few rights. As a matter of fact, S.A. airlines have nil legal obligation for the provision of compensation to delayed passengers, including food, vouchers, or a hotel stay. For airlines in Europe, this does vary between companies, and compensation is quite frequently a requirement.

It’s not to say that those who travel in South Africa will end up with nothing if they have to endure a lengthy flight delay. But it is to say that you shouldn’t count on it.


What S.A. Airlines Will Likely do for You

To get you onto the next flight that’s available, the airline will aim to do as much as they can. In some cases, this will mean that you’re even invited to fly with a competing airline. This, though, is really the only obligation that airlines have in S.A. If, on the other hand, a delay or a cancellation makes a trip an impossibility, then, you’re entitled to at least a portion of your flight fee as a reimbursement.

Thus, if your flight is diverted or cancelled, or it experiences a particularly lengthy delay, and because of this, you opt to cancel, you are, by law, entitled to a reimbursement of the price of unused transportation, and that applies to non-refundable tickets, too. This is inclusive of baggage fees that you paid for.

Do note that in general, you’ll have to file a claim in order to retrieve the reimbursement, so it’s wise to check with your airline.

While at the airport, keep an eye on the messaging boards for updates on flight information – this is a further obligation on airlines – they must keep you fully informed. Furthermore, don’t go too far from your boarding gate unless you’ve been directed to an alternative gate to get your flight.

Try to remain patient. It can be a messy affair, but it’s not like the gate staff are having a good time of it either.


The Airline’s Contracts of Carriage

The “contract of carriage”, which is also referred to as the “conditions of carriage”, represents a legal document which is posted on an airline’s website and it dictates what a carrier is prepared to and not prepared to do for their passengers. Such documents are not easy to understand, given that they are packed full of legalese terms and conditions.

As an example, larger airlines frequently make up contracts that notate that in some circumstances they will provide passengers with hotel accommodation, though this may be “subject to availability” or at the airline’s “sole discretion”.

Does that mean anything to you?


International Travel

Those that are booked on an international flight could be entitled to some form of compensation, dependent on airline (and also dependent on the country). In the European Union, for example, it is a requirement that airlines provide food and also hotel vouchers to any passengers that experience a delay, at least in certain circumstances.

You should, prior to a flight, check for details of this on your chosen airline’s website.


When Your Flight is Delayed or Cancelled…

Act fast! Passengers will be queuing up for any empty seat availability.

Get yourself in front of a gate agent as soon as you can. If the queue is already a lengthy one, attempt to “slip” into a VIP lounge as the lines in those lounges will always remain short. Passengers that get in front of a gate agent first are the first to have the opportunity for available seats.

Utilize your phone to carry out some research. Find out about alternative flights, even if that’s with another airline to the one you’re booked with. This could save time over queuing to talk with an agent at the airport, and saving time is of the essence.

Don’t shy away from asking, and do be polite – “Any chance that I could get a voucher for some food, or even a hotel?” If you’re polite, you may get something for nothing, but don’t be overly hopeful.


Before You Travel

Just to be on the safe side, particularly if your chosen airline is one that is prone to regular delays (cheap ticket airlines are extremely prone), and before you head on to the airport, pack some:

Food: Sandwiches and snacks, so as to avoid paying the high prices charged at the airport. Beverages? Do remember that the size of the liquid container is limited and you may have to dump those when you pass through security. You could bring along an empty bottle and fill it at a water cooler, or wait until you pass through security before you buy your drinks.

Entertainment: Got some games with you? Movies? A good book? If you’re bringing the kids along, you’ll want to cover their requirements as well.

Chargers: You’ll no doubt have at least one phone with you, and probably a tablet or a laptop. And the last thing you’d want, other than a lengthy flight delay or cancellation, is for the battery to die on you. Keep the chargers handy, and if you have a portable recharger, all the better.