Airlines aim for all flights to depart on schedule and arrive in time as much for their own business reasons as for your sanity. Unfortunately, delays and even cancellations occur more often that anyone would like.
The reasons for delays and cancellations are as varied as the places in the world and the times at day when they occur. In some instances, a passing thunderstorm grounds all planes at an airport for a few hours. Other times, a mechanical problem with a particular aircraft can strand all passengers on it for a day or more.
Only by reading the contract of carriage your airline sets forth can you know for sure the carrier’s responsibilities and your rights when it comes to delays and cancellations. Still, being aware of standard protocols before travel helps will give you an idea of when to speak and when to cope.
Acts of God
Airplanes fly through the sky, which means flight schedule and weather forecasts are inextricably linked. In inclement weather, airlines delay and cancel flights not only to ensure your safety – for which you should be thankful – but in many cases, because federal aviation regulations require entire airports and runways to be shut down. Although certain ones may, airlines are not required to offer compensation in the event of weather delays, even when an overnight stay is necessary.
Postponing or even canceling a flight due to mechanical reasons is just as much to ensure your safety as weather-related cancellations and delays are, but the difference is that airlines will generally compensate you it your delay is significant enough. Compensation is usually the same for all passengers, since all are inconvenienced by the delay. Try not to get into any heated disputes while trapped on the plane – if you’re required to stay overnight, you may all be in the same hotel!
Staff and Crew Issues
A variety of personnel-related issues can also lead to delays and cancellations. In some instances, it’s as simple as a particular plane’s crew getting stuck on the way to the airport, be it from a hotel in town or on an inbound flights that was delayed. Other times, it’s because of labor disputes and even strikes. Whether or not an airline offers you compensation in the event of a staff- or crew-related delay depends mostly on the nature and length of the delay.
Compensation and Accommodation
Delay- or cancellation-related compensation can come in the form of travel vouchers, frequent flier miles and, if your delay requires you to stay overnight, a free or discounted stay in a nearby hotel. If the airline decides that compensation is in order right away, a customer service representative will address all passengers to whom the compensation is applicable and instruct them on how to claim the compensation. Otherwise, you may receive an email or phone call at a later date.
When and How to Complain
So, what if you don’t receive compensation and believe that you should? First, locate or request a copy of the airline’s contract of carriage and, if your claim falls within acceptable limits, call or email the airline’s customer service department and state your case. Be respectful without being concessionary. Be firm without being aggressive. Concisely and calmly stating how the delay inconvenienced you is usually enough to get compensation, if the airline is prepared to offer it.
About the author
Robert Schrader is a travel writer/photographer and editor of the blog Leave Your Daily Hell, your source for destination information, travel photos, practical travel advice and inspirational travel essays. Robert’s writing and photography has been published on websites such as CNNGo, Tripping and Shanghaiist and in print publications like That’s Shanghai and East & West magazines. Robert’s travels have thus far taken him to more than 40 countries and to all six inhabited continents. Follow the Twitter feed, “Like” the Facebook page or add Robert to one of your Google+ circles.