Travel Tips

‘I’m a Lawyer, and This Is What You Are Entitled To When Your Flight Is Canceled or Delayed’

Photo: Getty Images / d3sign
While the skies themselves may be friendly, getting off the ground is not without its difficulties these days—lost, stolen, or damaged luggage, and canceled or delayed flights, to name a few. A 2022 Forbes Advisor survey of 2,000 travelers revealed that 61 percent of respondents experienced flight delays or cancellations.

With airlines struggling to keep up with post-pandemic travel surges and crew shortages due to COVID-19, the likelihood of you having to rebook a flight at some point is high. If it happens to you, this is what you’re entitled to for a delayed or canceled flight, according to Erika Kullberg, attorney and co-founder of Creators Agency.

My flight’s been canceled

“If your flight is canceled, no matter what, you’re entitled to a full refund,” Kullberg says, “and if you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you’re also entitled to have any refund of any baggage fees, too.” The Department of Transportation confirms this, adding that you are additionally owed a refund for any “unused transportation—even for non-refundable tickets.”

Alternatively, you can ask the airline to rebook you on the next available flight for no extra charge. While there are no requirements, some airlines will put you on another airline’s flight if they don’t have any extra seats. There’s also the option of a travel credit voucher, but make sure you inquire about any restrictions like blackout dates.

My flight’s been delayed

Your entitlements to a delayed flight are a little trickier with circumstances and the amount of time coming into play. “If the delay is due to weather, there’s really not much that can be done,” says Kullberg. “Some airlines as a courtesy will do things for you, but under the Department of Transportation regulations, they’re not required to.” However, she advises to always inquire with staff as you never know what form of compensation you may be able to receive.

While the weather is out of their hands, you may have better luck with compensation when delays are deemed controllable by the airline—for example, understaffing or mechanical issues. Each airline treats controllable delays differently, as seen on the official Department of Transportation website. Airlines including Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United, are committed to:

  • Rebook passengers on the same airline at no additional cost for significant delays
  • Rebook on a partner airline or another airline with which it has an agreement at no additional cost for significant delays
  • Provide a meal or meal cash/voucher when a flight delay results in a passenger waiting three hours or more
  • Complimentary hotel accommodations for any passenger affected by an overnight delay
  • Complimentary ground transportation to and from the hotel for any passenger affected by an overnight delay

However, airlines like Frontier won’t book with a partner airline nor provide accommodation or transportation for overnight delays. The term significant delay is also not defined but is typically understood to be when waiting over three hours.

Does it matter where the delays and cancellations happen?

No matter where in the world you are, if your flight is canceled, you’re entitled to a full refund. Again, things are different if a delay is an issue. But the best rule of thumb is to look up the policies of the country in which your flight originates because may be entitled to additional benefits.

When comparing the United States and European Union, for example, the EU offers passengers more protection from delayed flights than the US, as well as compensation for delayed or canceled flights in some cases. “Even within the U.S. sometimes there are different rules based on whether the flight departed from a different country and landed into the U.S. versus a domestic flight,” says Kullberg. In this case, it’s best to speak directly with your airline.

 

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