It’s every traveler’s nightmare: You arrive at the airport packed and ready for a dream vacation, when you get an alert that your flight will take off 30 minutes late. What follows is a series of incremental delays that leaves you stranded in the airport, missing precious experiences and time at your destination. The agent at the counter will tell you that there is nothing the airline can do to repay you for the inconvenience and missed vacation time.
Enter AirHelp, a startup that can get you paid when your flight is delayed or canceled. If you’ve had a travel setback, the website asks for information to determine whether you’re eligible for compensation: which cities you flew through, the length of the delay and the reason given by the airline. If AirHelp discovers that your passenger rights have been violated, it will reach contact the airline on your behalf and request compensation. If the airline pays up, AirHelp takes 25%. You pay nothing if the claim is denied.
AirHelp is the brainchild of co-founder and CEO Henrik Zillmer, who came up the idea after suffering constant delays while flying from Europe to Asia for work. After missing out on important meetings and time with loved ones, he did some research to see if he could get compensated.
“Airlines don’t know the air passenger rights, nor do they want to answer if you ask them what your rights are,” Zillmer told Yahoo Finance. “I found out my rights, and filed a claim that got rejected. But after legal letters back and forth, I got my money.”
After his success, Zillmer started to help friends and family file their own claims with airlines. AirHelp officially launched in January 2015.
In addition to recent flights, AirHelp will also seek out compensation for flight delays or cancellations that happened within the last 36 months. After signing in with an email account, AirHelp will scan your inbox for airline itineraries. If it finds a flight that’s eligible for compensation, it will ask for your permission to reach out to the airline on your behalf. As far as security is concerned, Zillmer assures users that AirHelp can only look at itineraries from an airline or travel agent. For those travelers still wary of a privacy invasion, travel itineraries can also be sent to AirHelp manually.
If you become a member (which is free), the site will also track future flights and notify you if compensation becomes available once the flight is completed.
According to AirHelp, the average claim is about $400 per person, and so far, the startup has helped nearly 900,000 passengers in the European Union (EU) and the United States claim $85 million. Airlines typically don’t pay out willingly, especially low-cost carriers like RyanAir or EasyJet, so the company’s staff of 300 has been to court nearly 8,000 times to defend claims, they say.
Today it seems like airlines have all of the control. They charge fees for everything, and decide when you fly and how long you wait. Zillmer says the number one priority of AirHelp is to let passengers know that rules do exist for how they’re supposed to be treated. For example, if an airline bumps you off of a plane or delays your flight for more than three hours, you might be entitled to some compensation.
In fact, there is a helpful tab on the site called Know your Rights that lays out guidelines for flights in the US and European Union. If you don’t want to pay AirHelp 25% of your compensation, it’s possible to research passenger rights and file a claim on your own. Still, that’s easier said than done. Each country has slightly different rules, and it can be difficult to know what to claim and where certain rights apply.
AirHelp is there if you want to avoid the hassle.
“About 1% of people entitled to compensation are actually getting it,” says Zillmer. “We provide the tools that enable the customers to manage compensation claims, and hopefully that can use that money to go on another vacation.”
Brittany Jones-Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Finance.