Facing Travel Delays? Here’s What You May Be Entitled To
If you’re facing flight delays or canceled flights, you could be entitled to credits, cash or even complimentary lodging at a partnering hotel.
November 2, 2021
Nobody plans the trip of a lifetime with a flight cancellation or delayed departure in mind. But unfortunately, once you check-in at the airport, many of these factors are simply out of your control.
If you’re facing flight delays or canceled flights, you could be entitled to credits, cash or even complimentary lodging at a partnering hotel. The key is knowing which services an airline is obligated to give you and which airport travel delays you’ll have to combat on your own.
What is a Contract of Carriage?
While you may not necessarily know about it upfront, you’re actually entering into a contract with the airline when you purchase an airline ticket. Each airline has a specific legal agreement known as a “Contract of Carriage” that outlines policies and protocols you agree to simply by buying a ticket.
If you want to know exactly what an airline is obligated to offer when you travel with them, the Contract of Carriage can be a helpful tool. While each airline has different policies, you can find some general guidelines below. You can also scan your ticket’s Contract of Carriage to see what the airline has promised during your flight.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in the event of a canceled flight, an airline will typically rebook or refund your flight. If you want to rebook your flight, the airline can book you on its next available flight. However, they can also rebook you on a different airline, but they’re not legally obligated to do so. In the event a different airline has an earlier flight with available seats, it doesn’t hurt to ask politely to rebook that flight.
If you were hoping for complimentary lodging, food, or transportation following a canceled flight, you might be out of luck. When a flight is canceled and you’re left stranded, airlines aren’t required to put you up for the night. These services are considered “goodwill” gestures, and all depend on which airline you book.
There are instances where you’re more likely to receive “goodwill” services like a complimentary meal or an overnight stay if:
Your flight was the airline’s last departure of the day
The next flight is more than four hours away between the hours of 10pm and 6am
That said, odds are you won’t be eligible for such perks if you’re flying out of your home city.
Finally, if you’re flying somewhere for a cruise, special event or other ticketed experience, the airline doesn’t owe you compensation if you miss it due to a canceled flight.
While there are some clear-cut rules when it comes to canceled flights, travel delays are murkier. When a flight is delayed in the U.S., the airline doesn't necessarily owe you money.
If the flight is significantly delayed, you can ask the airline to try to book you on another airline; however, it’s not required to do that either. When a flight is delayed due to inclement weather, it’s unlikely you can rebook on another airline, because they’re dealing with the same conditions. But, if your flight is delayed because of mechanical or staffing issues, you may be able to find another airline with an earlier flight that’s fully operating.
Then, there’s the delay most travelers dread on a whole different level — sitting on the runway for hours after you’ve already boarded the plane. Not only can it be stressful and stagnant, but the airline doesn’t owe you anything for the inconvenience. However, if you’re stuck in a grounded plane for more than two hours, the airline must provide food or water.
Flight delays are a pain, but the airline doesn’t owe you all that much when they happen. However, if you have a travel credit card or travel insurance, your policy may reimburse some costs associated with a delay, such as:
Travel (taxis, Uber, or public transport)
A tight connection can be a major stressor while you’re traveling. When unforeseen circumstances — like delays or airport traffic — put your connection in jeopardy, the airline may be able to help you.
When the missed connection is the airline’s fault, like in the case of a flight delay, the airline will rebook you. If the rebooking is hours or a day away, you can ask about a complimentary hotel stay or food, but the airline isn’t required to give it to you.
However, if you miss a connection because you booked the time between flights too tight, you’re less likely to get anything out of the airline. Additionally, if you booked the second leg of your journey with a different airline and missed the connection, neither airline is required to rebook you.
Removing the stress from flight delays
Unexpected airport travel delays can be stressful to say the least, especially when you don’t know if an airline will actually help you. While the policies vary from airline to airline, being kind and patient with airline employees can help you sweeten the pot. Who knows? It just might score you a swanky hotel room or complimentary upgrade on your next flight.
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