How not to make my $1,400 mistake

Always read the fine print. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

I’m on vacation, but I wanted to share something I learned exactly three years after I took another vacation. Here’s the story.

My wife and I took a really fun, 10-day trip to Italy in 2015. I'd never been there before. We spent most of our time on the Amalfi Coast. It was utterly amazing.

Coming home, our United Airlines flight was out of Rome. It was supposed to take off for Newark at 9:55 a.m., but there were some mechanical issues and it didn't actually take off until 4:48 p.m.

That's seven hours stuck in the airport.

Actually, not seven hours. Instead, it was seven separate one-hour delays.

If they’d told us it would be seven hours up front, we would have just gone back into Rome for the day.

Oh well, it was still a great vacation. But now, fast forward to 2018. My wife and I were reminiscing about the trip.

"You know what?" I said. "I think it was three years ago today that we were stuck in Rome."

"No," my wife corrected me. She'd been posting on Instagram from the airport while we were stuck that day, and she'd just received one of those "on this day" notifications on her phone. "It was three years ago yesterday."


A couple of hours later—seriously, that same night—I was sitting on our couch writing an article.

(Time out for a meta-reference: three years later, and I am sitting on a new couch, but in the same position in our living room, writing this article.)

Anyway, I came across an ad for a company called AirHelp:

Flight delay to/in Europe within the last 3 years?

"According to EU regulations, when airlines cancel European flights, or delay them by more than 3 hours, they owe you $700 cash."

Yes, I realized, we had in fact been on a flight from Europe that was delayed more than three hours!

But also... it had now been three years and one day. Would that extra day matter?

TL;DR: Yes, it mattered.

I clicked the ad and filled out the intake form. Sure enough, my claim was flagged for having fallen just outside the three-year window.

Read your colleagues’ work, Murphy

This was no small error. Given that both my wife and I would have been eligible, we would have potentially been owed $1,400 or more.

But I'd had no idea at all about this whole situation until I saw the ad.

Adding insult to injury, it turns out my friend and colleague at, Chris Matyszczyk, had written about AirHelp and the EU law a few months earlier. I'd missed it.

Due to an EU regulation called EC 261, AirHelp said at the time:

"Airlines must provide passengers affected by lengthy delays of more than three hours with compensation of up to $700 each, in addition to meals and drinks for all delays of more than two hours."

I’m big on going straight to the top, so I asked AirHelp’s CEO, Henrik Zillmer, for his assessment of my situation.

"You may have been able to successfully file a claim for compensation from the airline," he told me, except that I was now one day past the statute of limitations.

Fine print

Of course, there's some intense fine print to the European law.

Airlines could potentially have to pay out a lot of money, so they're not eager to make it easy to claim compensation. Plus, this is the European Union: nothing is ever straightforward and simple.

Anyway, as of when I figured this out, AirHelp said it had helped more than 5 million passengers worldwide claim more than $369 million in compensation from airlines.

Now, if you look on their website, they say they’re up to 16 million people.

I know this won’t apply to the majority of readers. But I have a feeling that someone on this list will, at least once, be on a delayed European flight—hopefully you’ll remember this article, and walk away with a windfall.

And that will make me feel a little bit better about my mistake.

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7 other things worth your time

Thanks for reading. Photo: Pixabay. I wrote about some of this AirHelp stuff before for Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.