Canceled, Delayed Flights and Your Right to a Refund

You’re scheduled to fly but there’s a glitch – maybe it’s bad weather, maybe it’s a mechanical problem or maybe you got bumped. The bottom line is the same, though: you’re not going anywhere for a while.

What are your rights and what should you do next?

Listen as FareCompare’s Rick Seaney explains steps to take for a refund:

Tricks to Getting a Refund

Your Rights as a Passenger

The Department of Transportation offers a comprehensive online guide to passenger rights called Fly-Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel. It points out that airline responsibilities vary from situation to situation:

If you cancel a flight: If you decide against making a trip on a non-refundable ticket, the airline owes you nothing. You are out the cost of a ticket or at least an expensive change fee – although some airlines will make exceptions in cases of death or illness. You must contact the airline to learn your options. Avoid any uncertainty by purchasing more expensive refundable tickets or buying trip insurance, but read the fine print on any policy carefully.

6 Things Airlines Won’t Tell You

If the airline cancels or delays a flight: Airlines will try to get you on the next available flight but this does not necessarily mean the very next flight as it may be full. Also, if your delay stretches from hours or even overnight, you should know that airlines owe you nothing in the form of meals or hotel vouchers, although some of the larger carriers will offer such perks as a courtesy. When in doubt, ask (see more on this below).

If you are bumped:Your rights really kick-in if you are involuntarily bumped from your flight. The DOT requires that passengers be compensated up to $1,300 if their airline cannot get them on another flight that will arrive within one hour of the originally scheduled arrival time.

What to Know about Turbulence

What You Need to Know about Weather

Don’t assume that just because it’s not snowing, weather is not be a problem. You could be in for something much worse than a blizzard – a thunderstorm.

According to the FAA summer storms are generally worse than winter weather and here’s why: “Unlike winter storms, which take time to develop and move slowly, summer storms can form quickly, stretch for hundreds of miles and travel rapidly over large portions of the country.” And as a long-time airline pilot told FareCompare a couple of years ago, thunderstorms are something to be avoided: “Depending on the nature of the thunderstorm activity,” he added, “you might fly anywhere from 20 to 40 miles out of your way to get around the worst of it.” This too can create delays, but better that than some truly nasty turbulence.

What to Do at the First Sign of Delay

The moment you hear that a flight will be delayed or canceled, you must act quickly. Remember, an entire planeload of people will be clamoring for the few empty seats on the next available flight. Take these steps to be first in line for them:

Contact your airline: The key here is to multi-tasking, so if you’re at the airport get in line for an airline agent and get on the phone at the same time – you never know which method will get you quicker service. Try Twitter as well, since some airlines follow social media closely and respond quickly.

Ask about other airlines: If the next flight to your destination is full, ask about alternate airlines and ask if your carrier will make the change without a financial penalty to you (it does happen). If you’re waiting in line, get on your smart phone and check to see what other airlines fly to your destination to save the agent time – which will speed up the process for you.

Ask about alternate routes: Do not be afraid to fly out of your way on an indirect path to your final destination – making a stop at a hub airport can give you more flight options and a better chance at scoring an empty seat. Again, use your smart phone so you can speed up the process with the agent.

Don’t Expect Amenities

As the DOT points out, there are no federal requirements regarding anything airlines must do for delayed passengers, such passing out meal or hotel vouchers. As it states in the Fly-Rights guide, “Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline’s control. Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”


Updated: August 22, 2017