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4 times a lousy flight paid off

How airlines compensate passengers aboard harrowing flights -- like the one Tuesday with the JetBlue pilot gone wild.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 29, 2012 2:08PM

This post comes from Quentin Fottrell at partner siteSmartMoney.


Most air travel is a little unpleasant. But only the most miserable flights are deemed to warrant financial compensation.


Image: Passengers on an airplane (© Image Source/Getty Images)The midair drama onboard JetBlue's Flight 191 Tuesday is only the most recent example. The 135 passengers on board watched in horror as Capt. Clayton Osbon got booted from the cockpit by his co-pilot for unsafe behavior and proceeded -- judging by some alarming smartphone video footage of the incident -- to run up and down the aisle ranting and raving until he was restrained. One report quoted passengers saying, "The captain was attempting to flip switches in the cockpit that shouldn't have been flipped."


As compensation for this terrifying experience, passengers will receive a free one-way ticket and a voucher for twice the value of the seat, an airline spokeswoman said.


Travelers left sitting on the tarmac for hours don't always fare much better. Airline passenger advocate Kate Hanni started campaigning after she and her family were stuck on a runway for "nine hours and 17 minutes" in Austin, Texas, on Dec. 29, 2006, en route from San Francisco to Mobile, Ala. Hanni and other passengers received a $500 flight voucher from American Airlines.


"The conditions inside an aircraft deteriorate very rapidly after the fourth hour," she said. "The toilets overflowed, and one woman made a diaper out of T-shirts for her baby. Another couple in first class went into insulin shock."


After a near five-hour tarmac delay with Virgin America in 2010 due to bad weather -- it took 16 hours to get from LAX to JFK -- passengers received a refund and an additional $100 credit for future travel. One passenger, Justin Gordon, a law student from Santa Monica, Calif., says they deserved a free round-trip flight and a $500 credit. "Airlines are super-stingy," he said. (Post continues below.)

After life-threatening events, the compensation tends to be somewhat more rewarding -- but even then, some passengers complain that they deserved more.


Here are four more cases of airline passenger compensation:


US Airways' "Miracle on the Hudson"

  • Compensation: $5,000 per passenger.

In the event dubbed the "miracle on the Hudson," Capt. Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger ditched US Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River -- six minutes into a flight from New York's La Guardia Airport on Jan. 15, 2009. For their nightmare (with a happy ending), passengers later received $5,000 each from the airline, or more if they could prove their lost baggage was of greater value. They also were given a letter of apology from the airline and a refund of their ticket price.


Sullenberger became an instant celebrity for his calm and competent reaction following a bird strike that knocked out one of the plane's engines. Sullenberger took the controls, glided the plane onto the river and then told the passengers to evacuate onto the wing of the partially submerged plane. Though most passengers said they were just happy be alive, some groused that the airline's checks should have been bigger. Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott said, if anything, passengers should have paid Sullenberger for saving their lives.


American Eagle's epic flight delay

  • Compensation: $250 per passenger.

The Department of Transportation fined American Airlines $900,000 for keeping 608 passengers in 15 planes on the tarmac for more than three hours during adverse weather conditions at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Of that fine, $650,000 went to the Federal Aviation Administration, and the other $250,000 was earmarked for passenger compensation -- or roughly $400 per passenger. The DOT could have imposed a maximum fine of $16.7 million. AA's regional unit, American Eagle, reportedly paid $150,000 to the affected passengers, or $250 per person.


"In circumstances like this, we work with passengers on an individual basis," a spokesman said, but refused to confirm the number. New DOT rules, which went into effect last year, established a four-hour limit on tarmac delays for international flights of U.S. and foreign airlines; it's three hours for domestic U.S. flights.


American Eagle CEO Daniel P. Garton said in a statement at the time, "We take our responsibility to comply with all of the department's requirements very seriously and have already put in place processes to avoid such an occurrence in the future." The spokesman said nine of the 15 delays were more than three hours by 10 minutes or less.


Southwest plane cabin cracks midair

  • Compensation: Refund and two free round-trip tickets.

On April 1, 2011, a Southwest Airlines 737-300 split open with a hole in its roof while 36,000 feet over Arizona. The plane made an emergency landing as the cabin lost pressure and passengers grappled for oxygen masks. The flight -- en route from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif. -- touched down at a military base in Yuma, Ariz. Although a flight attendant received a minor injury during the plane's rapid descent, no passengers were hurt in the incident.


But passengers said seeing the fuselage rupture was beyond scary. "I heard a loud popping sound about three or four minutes before it blew open on us," one passenger, Greg Hansen, told CNN shortly after the incident. "A big explosion happened. A big noise, and from there, you felt some of the air being sucked out." A Southwest Airlines spokeswoman said passengers were issued a refund for their round-trip travel and, "as a gesture of good will," two free round-trip tickets within 24 hours.


Air Transat runs out of gas

  • Compensation: $12,500-plus (Canadian) per passenger.

Running out of fuel over the Atlantic was not how the 293 passengers on Air Transat Flight 236 wanted to start their holiday. On Aug. 24, 2001, Capt. Robert Piché glided the flight -- en route from Toronto to Lisbon, Portugal -- to a safe landing in the Azores. An investigation found that a fuel leak was to blame, caused by an incorrect part installed by Air Transat maintenance staff.

The airline was fined $250,000 (Canadian) by the Canadian government. In 2005, Air Transat settled a $7.65 million (Canadian) class-action lawsuit with 175 passengers, a company spokeswoman said. Reports that the airline made an offer of $8,800 (Canadian) per passenger were incorrect, the spokeswoman said. Another 118 others reportedly settled out of court for $12,500 (Canadian) each.


However, Air Transat said in a statement at the time that it was paid by its insurers and that a significant portion of the settlement agreement applies to administrative expenses as well as legal fees for the passengers' counsel. The airline did not respond to requests for comment.


More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:

Mar 30, 2012 5:14AM
Apr 13, 2012 12:52AM

I believe if the airline is at fault, passengers should be compensated.  US Air flight that landed safely in the Hudson was not the airline's fault, unless you think the airlines have someone out at the end of runways shooting birds up in the air.  It seems to me that the passengers were compensated fairly.  Capt. Sully should have been praised, not all pilots would have been able to have landed that plane in the Hudson, without his knowledge and expertise, that could have been a disaster and it would not have been the airline's fault.

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