Flight Cancellation Rights for a Traveler
For many, air travel can already be a stressful process. When your scheduled departure time encounters significant delays and, ultimately, your flight gets canceled, you might find yourself scrambling to find the next available flight. Flight cancellations can be more than just a headache; an airline’s decision to cancel a flight could result in you missing an important meeting, spending less time with friends or, in some cases, missing the next leg of a trip. Whether you experience flight disruptions for your direct trip to your destination that lead to cancellations, or you encounter a delayed flight before your connecting flight due to factors like bad weather, it’s helpful to know your air passenger rights when plans abruptly change and the additional costs start to add up. In the United States, airlines aren’t required by law to financially compensate you for a canceled flight, but most airlines have policies in place to navigate flight delays and cancellations and get you to your final destination as quickly as possible.
What to Expect
Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, largely because they can’t control the weather conditions, unexpected mechanical problems or air traffic delays, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In fact, according to gonomad.com, airlines reserve the right to delay or even cancel flights at their discretion.
What Your Airline Will Do
Your airline ticket represents a “contract of carriage” between you and the airline; therefore, standard contract rules apply, leaving airlines open to a potential lawsuit if they don’t make reasonable efforts to fulfill their side of the bargain. For that reason – and to keep customers happy – most airlines will try to rebook you as soon as possible, as space and weather permit. Many factors are out of the airline’s control, but how they respond to these situations is completely up to them. You can hold your airline accountable by making sure they seek out alternative flights for you, or even make hotel accommodations if this new flight will require you to stay overnight at a location and fly out the next day. Depending on the airline and their standard responses to these events, you may receive a full refund and/or travel credit back from your canceled flight.
Staying up-to-date with your flight status and other travel details can be made much easier by downloading the app for your specific airline. Apps like the Delta Air Lines app or the American Airlines app will provide you with information revolving around delays, cancellations, upgrades, check-in details and more.
Getting Another Flight
The downside to having a canceled flight rebooked is that, depending on where you’re going, it might be a while before the airline is able to get you there on one of its flights. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, if the delay will be lengthy, you can ask your airline to endorse your ticket to another carrier. Check flight schedules at the airport, find a few available flights to your intended destination and visit those ticket counters – or call their customer service numbers – to see if they have available seats. Airlines aren’t required to endorse your ticket to another carrier – which, in essence, means they’ll be paying another carrier to transport you – but often, you’ll find they’re likely to work with you to keep you happy.
Meals and Hotels
According to gonomad.com, U.S. airlines that cancel your flights aren’t required to provide you with a hotel room, meal vouchers or even free phone calls, although many have policies in place to work with customers. If you find you’ll be stranded overnight due to an airline cancellation, ask a customer service representative for meal vouchers or hotel vouchers; often, you’ll find they’ll make an effort to help. The Department of Transportation says many airlines, especially low-cost airlines, don’t tend to provide amenities to stranded passengers, but asking is always worthwhile.
Unlike the United States, the European Union (EU) has mandates in place for airline cancellations. When an airline cancels a flight for reasons other than weather, passengers have the right to financial compensation, as fixed by current EU law, unless the airline cancels the flight with more than two weeks' notice or passengers are rerouted and are able to arrive very close to their originally scheduled arrival time. Passengers are also required, by law, to receive meals, a hotel stay when the cancellation results in an overnight layover and a full reimbursement when the cancellation delays the passenger for five hours or more.