As winter storms rip through the United States over the holidays, more than 6000 flights have been canceled with an even higher number of delays. With this being the busiest season for holiday travel since 2019, hundreds of thousands of passengers are finding themselves stranded, delayed, and rerouted.
With all of the stress and pressure that last-minute cancellations come with, especially at Christmas time, here is an easy-to-read guide of your passenger rights, including when you should be refunded and when the airlines owe you extra benefits for the delays.
How To Get A Full Refund If Your Flight Is Canceled
If your flight is canceled, even for reasons like weather, and you no longer wish to travel, the airline owes you a full refund, despite what they might say to you at the counter.
The U.S Department of Transportation’s Aviation consumer protection page clearly posts that consumers are entitled to a full refund, not a voucher, if the airline cancels their flight and they no longer want to travel. The government’s policy includes cancellations for bad weather, pilot shortages, mechanical issues, and a list of other reasons.
Even if you have booked a basic-economy or non-refundable ticket, the government’s strict policy states a full refund must still be given.
If your flight has been canceled and you are no longer traveling or you are going to drive or take a train there instead, here is how you will obtain your refund:
- Contact your airline via phone, email or online chat and demand your refund. As protocol, they will always try and offer you a voucher first. Do not accept.
- If they still will not refund you, you can file a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation here: http://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm
How To Get Rebooked If Flight is Canceled
If your flight has been canceled, but you’re still headed to mom’s house for some turkey dinner, the airlines are responsible to rebook you on the next available flight. This rebooking process is mostly automatic and may happen moments after your flight is canceled. Be sure to check your airline’s app and your email to see if an alternative route has been set up for you.
If your flight has not been automatically rebooked, but you got a cancelation notice, follow the instructions in the text or email on how to rebook.
If you are already at the airport when your flight gets canceled, and you are not automatically rebooked or cannot contact your airline via phone/chat, you can also try and approach your airline’s customer service desk, as agents will be rebooking and handing our vouchers there are well.
- The airline must rebook you on the next available flight free of charge
- Airlines like Alaska, Delta, and American Airlines will even book you on a partner airline for a new flight if they don’t have any available seats left.
- If the cancellation has you waiting overnight, airlines will provide you with hotel vouchers, and shuttle or transportation vouchers to and from the accommodation. Airlines that provide accommodations due to canceled or delayed flights are Amerian, Delta, Southwest, United, Jet Blue, Alaska, and Hawaiian.
- If a hotel room is not available, some U.S. airlines like Delta will offer an airline credit for the value of the average hotel price to be used for future flights.
- If the cancellation has resulted in a delay of more than 3 hours, you are also entitled to meal vouchers
- Some airlines, like JetBlue, offer additional credits for delays. If the flight delay announcement happens before boarding, passengers are entitled to a $50-$200 credit depending on the time frame of the delay. If the delay happens after boarding, the credit amounts are $100-$250 depending on the time frame of the delay.
If They Have Bumped You Because Of Overbooking
Some passengers may still be negatively affected by holiday flights this week, and not because of storm cancellations, but instead of airlines overbooking flights.
If an airline sells more tickets than there are seats available on the plane, which is, unfortunately, a common practice of U.S.-based airlines, they need to pay you big money for the inconvenience.
If you agree to get bumped on a new flight and the airline can get you to your final destination between one and two hours of your original arrival time, you are entitled to 200% of your one-way fare cost or $775, whichever amount is lower.
If the airline can get you to your final destination more than two hours after your original arrival time (or four hours for international flights), or if the airline cannot make any alternative travel plans for you, the minimum compensation is 400% of your one-way fare or $1,550, whichever amount is lower.
Your Travel Insurance Will Have Extra Perks and Coverage
I’ve been a full-time traveler for over 8 years now and I can tell you honestly, I ALWAYS have travel insurance, no matter if it’s a short domestic trip or an extended international journey.
If you are canceled or delayed, check your travel insurance terms and conditions, as they will likely have additional payouts and benefits over and above those of the airline. Some will give you extra cash for sundry items like toothpaste and shampoo for delays, while others might provide additional accommodation options if your airline is impossible to reach to do high call volumes.