How to Get Compensation from an Airline After a Delay or Cancellation

Before the airline delay, we were already scheduled to have a 4 hour layover in Detroit.

It wasn’t too bad because my wife and I were able to get into the Delta lounge (free perk of the American Express Platinum) and enjoyed the Olympics, a shower, a cold Coke, and delicious hummus.

After relaxing in the lounge, we headed to the gate.  The flight was delayed.  Then we had a gate change.  Then the flight was delayed even more.  Then we had another gate change, and the flight was delayed even more.

Four hours after our original departure time, we left Detroit bound for Chippewa airport.  Instead of a 9 p.m. arrival, we arrived at 1 a.m.

It was an inconvenience caused by Delta and not by the weather. I decided that Delta should have done more to compensate my wife and I for the inconvenience.

How to File a Complaint (or Compliment) and Get Compensation with an Airline

Look, I understand that business doesn’t always go as planned.  I’m willing to be flexible.  However, a company should compensate passengers if they fail to provide a reasonable service that reflects what he or she originally agreed to.

Since our flight was on Delta, I visited the website and clicked on the link at the very top center of the page “Compliment/Complaint?”.  I followed the prompts to send my message to Delta.

Personally, I think the best way to contact an airline is via their message center on their website.

How to find the best place to share your thoughts:

American Airlines - “Contact AA” on the top tool bar.  Scan down on the left sidebar and click on “Customer Relations”.  From there, you’ll select “Compliment/Complaint/Comment”.  You’ll then have the opportunity to email customer relations.

United - On the top right navigation menu, click on “Contact Us”.  From there, you’ll scan down the page, and on the left side you’ll see a section called “Customer Care”.  You’ll be able to select “View contact options” and send a secure message directly to United.

US Airways - It has a drop down enabled menu.  When you hover over “Contact Us”, you’ll see the option for “Compliments/Complaints”.

Completing the Secure Response Form

I had no idea what I should expect when I filled out the form, but I did feel like I was entitled to a mileage compensation for the delay.

Here’s the main body of what I wrote:

Our flight was from Denver to Sault Ste. Marie. The DTW to CIU portion was delayed by nearly four hours. The delay was not due to weather. We were only told they were ‘waiting’ on paper work. During the delay, we were not offered any sort of beverages or snacks. We were not offered any form of compensation (i.e. miles for the hassle). To make matters worse, once we got on the plane, I was told the ice was very limited and only got a lukewarm drink because the ground crews didn’t have time to restock the ice. This was after a nearly four hour delay. I think a compensation of miles for the hassle would be more than appropriate.

What I attempted (and hope I did) to communicate:

  • I specifically mentioned that we were not offered any snacks or drinks because I received a post delay survey from Delta asking if we were offered any drinks or snacks.  My assumption was that Delta has certain occasions where they are supposed to do this.  I certainly didn’t think it was inappropriate that they didn’t feed me or give me a drink during those four hours, but I guessed that Delta sometimes does do this.
  • I highlighted that the delay was not due to weather.  If it was a weather delay, it would have been outside of their control.  I intentionally mentioned the reason we were given: ‘paperwork’.
  • I proposed a resolution.  I didn’t want to gripe and complain without reason. I wanted Delta to give me some miles for the hassle.
  • I have no idea why I mentioned the drink on the plane, but it was frustrating that the ground crew couldn’t get ice on the plane.  Since we left at midnight, I’m guessing all the ground crew member had actually punched out for the day.

Delta’s Response to My Complaint

Within a day or two, I received a five paragraph email apologizing for the delay and reminding me that I am a valued customer.  Interestingly, they responded directly to each of my mentioned concerns.  I know it was a form letter, but someone spent enough time to be sure that it was customized to my specific frustrations.

In the end, Delta gave me 11,500 SkyMiles for the delay.

The result: I’m happy. Delta resolved the issue as best they could under the circumstances.

Kudos and two thumbs up for Delta.

The lesson is that if an airline has failed to provide a great service either by delay or cancellation, then it wouldn’t hurt to file a complaint if you feel like you deserve a reasonable form of compensation.  That said, if you just want to vent angry feelings and you don’t propose a way forward, I doubt the airline will reach out to you.

Have you ever filed a complaint with an airline?  Was it resolved in a satisfactory way?  What tips do you have to be sure you’re properly compensated?


  1. says

    Craig, we had a very similar experience at Detroit’s airport on our recent anniversary trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan. Our original flight had a 2 hour layover, which was fine and expected. We had lunch, hung around in the lounge for a while and then proceeded to our gate. That’s where it got weird. We ended up getting switched to 5 different gates over the next 4 hours. We were told it was a weather delay at first. Next we were told that it was a mechanical delay. Finally after waiting around for 4 hours we were told that our flight crew had timed out and we now had to wait even longer for a fresh flight crew. We were supposed to arrive at our destination around 5pm. We ended up arriving closer to 10pm. We enjoyed ourselves on our vacation, and the flight back was much better, but I hadn’t even thought to complain about our flight. Out of the blue we got an email from Delta apologizing for the experience and giving us each 1000 miles on our delta skymiles account. Now I wish I had complained a bit more, we may have gotten as many miles as you!

    • says

      It must be a Delta thing! There was a guy on our flight who’s been flying up to The Soo every week for the last 4 months. He said there wasn’t a single time the flight arrived on time. I guess if he mastered the art of ‘complaining’ he’d have a bunch of miles :). At least Delta was proactive and offered 1,000, but I’m glad we ended up with even more.

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