Most Olympic competitions are won or lost in a matter of milliseconds. Athletes train every day for many years with the full weight of this knowledge on their shoulders.
Those goals and aspirations could easily be derailed if the athlete is then stranded at the airport by a delayed or canceled flight. Such was the case for a handful of competitors whose journeys to Rio this July were wracked with mishaps from delayed flights to missed connections and lost luggage.
Passengers departing from the EU, or arriving at EU member states on a European carrier, are eligible for compensation for flights that are canceled, disrupted or delayed for more than three hours under Regulation EC 261. The law applies year-round and it takes less than two minutes to see if you’re eligible.
The winners’ stage – Ranking Olympic travel disruptions
On-time arrival does not cure the lingering headache of travel-gone-wrong. It can affect the performance of even the most focused athletes. At their worst, travel delays may even cost a competitor a shot at a gold medal.
We’ve collected stories of a few Olympians who faced numerous trials while trying to reach Rio as a sign of caution. These stories illustrate how the law works and how it doesn’t. It just goes to show that when it comes to the Olympics, hard work and natural talent may be the doorway to success, but logistics and preparation are the key.
Bronze medal: Alex Ngan
U.S. freestyle swimmer Alex Ngan’s hopes of competing in the Rio Olympics were dashed before they ever took off. His initial flight to the Olympic trials in early July 2016 was 40 minutes delayed out of Oakland, according to a profile in Sports Illustrated. Alex missed his connecting flight through Salt Lake City to Omaha because of the initial delay.
There were no more departing flights that night when he did arrive in Salt Lake City. Alex made a run for it with plans of driving more than 12 hours in a rental car to arrive in Omaha with one hour to spare before his 9 a.m. heat. About halfway through his car trip, however, he realized that he hadn’t accounted for the change in time zones between the two cities. It would be impossible for him to make it on time and in peak performance condition.
Sadly, Alex’s hope of receiving any compensation through EC261 is also nil; the legislation passed by the European Union does not cover domestic flights in the U.S. To learn more about your rights as an airline passenger in the U.S., check out the “United States flights within the U.S.” tab on the Know Your Rights page.
Silver medal: Johny Akinyemi
Nigerian slalom canoeist Johny Akinyemi found himself up the creek without a paddle late last month, according to Francais Express. His flight between Manchester and Frankfurt was delayed 1.5 hours because of bad weather, causing him to miss his connection.
He was waitlisted for an alternative flight, but was later informed that all upcoming flights to Rio were fully booked. He feared missing out on valuable practice team even though his first competition wasn’t scheduled until Aug. 7. In addition, only two airlines were equipped to transport his canoes.
Johny later shared on Twitter that he had successfully arrived in Rio. Although compensation for his delay was likely the last thing on his mind, Johny’s flight wasn’t covered under EC 261, either. Despite the fact that, unlike Alex, he departed from an EU member state, Johny’s flight was ineligible because the delay was due to weather-related reasons. The law protects airlines in extraordinary circumstance that are out of their control, including political unrest and employee strikes, among other reasons.
Nevertheless, Johny and others in similar situations should use the AirHelp email scanner to see if they are eligible for previous flights within the past three years, which is the time period covered by the law in many European countries.
Gold medal: Mariel Zagunis
Two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis is the winningest sabre fencer in U.S. history. But even the best of the best need to sharpen their swords from time to time.
In mid-July, when Mariel left her home state of Oregon to fly to Warsaw, Poland for a few final rounds of training, she probably thought her road to Rio was set in stone. But, her Olympic gear never made it to Poland, according to KGW.com, and for two days neither the airline nor the airport were able to locate the luggage containing her fencing equipment and clothes.
Thankfully, a diligent United Airlines worker eventually found the missing gear and sent it, expedited, to Poland. Muriel got her bag back, as she let her fans know on Facebook … and she may be able to get money back for her troubles, too.
Passengers who report lost or damaged luggage could receive reimbursement for expenses or loss up to $3,500 for U.S. domestic flights or $1,549.32 for international flights and the airline is also required to reimburse the initial checked baggage fee.
The window for filing a claim for lost luggage is tight. For, international flights, you must report damaged luggage within seven days and lost luggage within 21 days; for domestic airlines, some carriers only provide a 24 hour window to report lost or damaged luggage.
Even if you find yourself unable to secure compensation through these channels, you always have the option to escalate the issue and file a complaint with Department of Transportation via phone, mail or their web form.
It’s a well-fought battle to the Olympics and the same goes with navigating the law to finding and receiving compensation for your troubles. The easiest way is to let AirHelp fight on your behalf.