Flight Delays and Cancellations: What are Your Travel Rights?

Consumer Finance - June 2, 2022
Two women in an airport upset because their flight has been delayed or cancelled.

With travel restrictions limited, borders opening, and less pandemic-caused friction in airports, you may be one of the millions of Americans planning to set off to exciting destinations this summer.

Before you pack your bags, though, there are some things you should keep in mind. First off, since you’re not the only one with travel plans, expect crowded airports, more flight cancellations and increased delays. And while airlines sometimes provide refunds or vouchers, this doesn’t always happen.

The key to setting yourself up for a smoother travel day is knowing your rights and what steps to take when your flight is canceled or delayed.

So, how do you find out if you’re eligible for compensation? How do you navigate your travel rights? Let’s break down some summer travel tips.

3 rights you should know when you face flight cancellations or delays

1. Clarify what your options are.

Oftentimes when your flight is canceled, the airline offers a choice to either receive a refund or a different flight. Ensure you understand the legal language of these options because it can be confusing and unclear. To clarify the terms and make the best decision for you, ask a cabin crew member or the airline staff to break down the details for you. Ask as many questions as you can, like “will the airline provide compensation?” and “will the airline cover hotel costs if you need to stay overnight due to a travel delay?”

2. Airlines should be in constant communication with you.

Airlines should communicate the most up-to-date information on what’s happening with your flight during long delays and provide alternative transportation options.

3. Airlines will have their own rules and regulations in their terms.

In the United States, airlines are not required to provide refunds when flights are canceled or delayed, but most airlines have policies about what they will do for delayed or canceled flight passengers. Look carefully through their policies to determine what you’re entitled to and keep asking questions to airline members so you can understand all your options.

When are you eligible for a refund after a flight cancellation?

So your flight got delayed or canceled, and you assume you’ll be refunded, right? Nope, not necessarily. Many things are out of the airline’s control, and because of this, they aren’t obligated to give you your money back. Most airlines approach compensation with two things in mind:

1. Length of your delay

If your flight is significantly delayed, you may receive a refund. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation has not explicitly defined what counts as a “significant delay” – every case is analyzed and decided on individually.

Regarding cancellations, most airlines will rebook you for free on their next flight out if they have enough seats. If you choose to cancel your trip altogether, you are entitled to a refund for the travel, bag fees if applicable and any extras you added on.

2. Cause of the delay or cancellation

The cause of each delay or cancellation is key because, as stated before, some things are out of the airline’s control. While every airline has its own rules and procedures regarding disruptions, under DOT, compensation is only required when certain passengers are moved from a flight because it is oversold.

When is the airline responsible for delay or cancellation?

Here are some examples of when airlines typically don’t provide refunds because they are reasons out of their control:

  • Security issues
  • Weather
  • Political unrest
  • Terrorism
  • Air traffic control reasons

If the problem causing the delay or cancellation has something to do with the airline, though, they may provide you a refund or other options. Here are some examples of delay reasons an airline may compensate you:

  1.  Schedules
  2.  Crew strike
  3. Operational/technical issues

4 tips when going through a flight disruption

When chaos strikes, it’s easy to panic. Instead of doing so, though, there are more productive ways of navigating your travel rights. Here are four tips when you experience a travel headache:

1. Stay calm.

It’s easy to get flustered going through the frustration of a canceled or delayed flight but try to take deep breaths and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Stay alert and up to date on information so you can prepare to act.

2. Keep track of the details.

Take screenshots of app/SMS communications, photos of boarding passes and any other helpful information, and track airline policies so you can have a record of your experience. Record your waiting time, as well.

3. Consider not accepting vouchers.

Understand the rules and ask questions before jumping to receive a voucher. If you do accept it, you might not be eligible for monetary compensation. Clarify and ask questions before assuming anything.

4. Discuss your options with a lawyer.

Sometimes you must escalate a travel situation and bring it to the right professionals to help you understand your rights. Make sure you consult with your provider lawyer to learn your options.

Talk to a lawyer about your travel rights.

This summer will be filled with lots of fun adventures, and it’s always beneficial to have a lawyer to consult if you run into any problems. Contact your provider lawyer if you have questions about your travel rights or need help navigating a travel issue.

See also: Legal Tips for Traveling This Holiday Season

Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”) provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield members through membership-based participation. Specific limitations apply. See a plan contract for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. The benefits described, including trial defense, are not available in all legal plans or in all states. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation, or legal advice (business consulting or business advice). This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations. If you are a LegalShield member, please contact your provider law firm for legal advice or assistance.