Flight cancellations can be more that just a headache; an airline’s decision to cancel a flight could result in your missing an important meeting, spending less time with friends or in some cases missing the next leg of a trip. 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 get you to your destination as quickly as possible.

What to Expect

Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, largely because they can’t control the weather, 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 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.

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 vouches or hotel vouchers; often, you’ll find they’ll make an effort to help. The U.S. Department of Transportation says many airlines, especially low-cost airlines, don’t tend to provide amenities to stranded passengers, but asking is always worthwhile.

In Europe

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.