Standing at the airline ticketing counter, a friend of mine was told her flight had been canceled due to recent severe weather in the South. They would be able to get her on a flight in a few days, leaving her and her two children stranded 1200 miles from home. One might think the airline would put her in a hotel while stranded, or at least give her some meal vouchers. After all, it wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t able to travel. But what are your rights as a ticket holder when your flight is delayed or canceled? What is required of the airline?
You might be surprised at just how little airlines are required to do in these situations.
The airline’s objective is to get you where you’re trying to go as quickly as possible. However, the lengths to which an airline will go to achieve that objective varies from airline to airline. You may be offered one of the following:
- A seat on a future flight with the same airline.
- A set on a flight with a different airline
- Ground transportation that will get you to your destination
In the event where there is a significant delay, the definition of which is somewhat up to interpretation, the US Department of Transportation states the airline does have to offer a refund of the unused portion of your ticket:
“If your flight is canceled or diverted or experiences a lengthy delay and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets – and for any bag fee that you paid.” —US Department Of Transportation
In my friend’s case the airline offered her seats on a flight 36 hours later, or a refund of the unused part of their tickets. No hotel, rental car, or meal vouchers were offered.
When will an airline offer voucher assistance to stranded travelers?
Airlines will typically only offer a seat on the next flight or a refund if your flight experiences an extended delay or cancellation due to an event outside their control. Most airlines state the terms of forces outside their control in their contract. The following is from Delta Airlines, which is the airline my friend was using:
Weather conditions or acts of God; riots, civil unrest, embargoes, war, hostilities, or unsettled international conditions; strikes, work stoppages, slowdowns, lockout, or any other labor-related dispute; government regulation, demand, directive or requirement; shortages of labor, fuel, or facilities.
If the delay or cancellation was due to something within the airline’s control, most airlines will offer to take care of your needs until they can get you to your destination including:
- Meal vouchers
- Hotel accommodations if applicable
This doesn’t meant that airlines will not provide meals or hotel accommodations if a delay or cancellation occurs due to a situation outside their control. It never hurts to ask, the worst they can do is say, “No.” A few years ago my mother-in-law’s flight was canceled due to weather, and she was put on a flight the next day. She asked, and was given meal and hotel vouchers. My friend, on the other hand, was unable to get the airline to give her anything.
Nobody wants their flight to be delayed or canceled. But knowing what may or may not be offered to you in different situations will help you keep calm and keep an already stressful situation from becoming a catastrophe.
How about you, Clever Friends, have you ever experienced a significant delay or cancellation when traveling by air? Did the airline do anything for you?
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Brought to you courtesy of Brock
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