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Stranded? You get more perks in Europe

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
  • Travelers flying in Europe are guaranteed certain rights that fliers in the U.S. are not
  • In the European Union, fliers are entitled to free meals and refreshments during delays
  • If a flight is canceled, passengers in Europe can get a full refund within seven days
  • In the U.S., airlines don't have to compensate passengers whose flights are canceled
  • Air Travel

(CNN) -- Flight delays and cancellations are frustrating no matter where you are, but if you have to be stranded, you'll get more perks in the European Union than in the United States.

Laws and regulations covering air travelers vary significantly between the two regions, with air travelers flying within or to EU countries guaranteed certain rights and creature comforts that fliers in the U.S. are not.

EU hits out at 'unacceptable' travel delays

Here's a look at the major differences:

Delayed and canceled flights in the European Union

Air travelers are entitled to free meals and refreshments -- plus two free telephone calls, telex or fax messages, or e-mails -- when delayed by at least two hours on shorter flights, three hours on flights up to about 2,200 miles, and four hours on the longest flights.

When the flight is delayed for at least a day, the carrier must provide free hotel accommodation and transport to and from the hotel.

When the delay is five hours or longer, passengers may opt to be fully reimbursed for the ticket.

If a flight is canceled, passengers can choose between being fully reimbursed within seven days or being rerouted to their final destination "at the earliest opportunity."

The rights are fully spelled out in Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council.

Delayed and canceled flights in the U.S.

Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport, but there are no federal requirements, according to the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement office of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The agency recommends that you ask the airline staff if it will pay for meals or a phone call when you are delayed.

Discount airlines often do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers, while other carriers may not offer perks if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline's control.

If a flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook travelers on the first flight to their destination on which space is available at no additional charge.

But passengers often have to depend on the goodwill of the airline.

"Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled," the Aviation Consumer Protection Division says on its website.

"Compensation is required by law only when you are 'bumped' from a flight that is oversold."