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Flight Delayed or Canceled? Here’s What You Need to Do

Flight Delayed or Canceled? Here’s What You Need to Do

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This article was last updated Sep 04, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

Travelers across the U.S. have been plagued this summer by flight delays and cancelations, according to statistics compiled by Portland, Ore.-based FlightStats. In the past month alone, there have been about 20,000 flights canceled and over 200,000 delayed, it found.

As to what drives these delays and cancelations, it’s a multitude of factors. Everything from weather, power outages, system outages and even crew shortages or late reporting passengers can contribute to the chaos.

With all that travel, it can cause a real mess across the country when flight delays and happen. We’ll take a look at the causes and effects, along with how you can best mitigate them when they happen to you.

What airlines will and won’t do when flights are delayed

Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled. Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for passengers who are stuck. Some airlines pay for meals and lodging during a mechanical delay or cancellation. Low-cost carriers tend not to offer much assistance, nor do they have agreements to transport stranded travelers.

The key to finding out what rights you have during a delay or cancellation lies in each airline’s contract of carriage, a document that outlines, among other things, what it will and won’t do if your flight is delayed or canceled. Most airlines are required to post them on their websites and keep a copy at the check-in counter of the airports they serve, but there are no other federal requirements.

So it’s always a good idea to check your airline’s contract of carriage before you fly to see how — or even if — you will be protected if the worst happens. Below, we’ve outlined the policies for the top eight domestic carriers as of publication.

Contract of Carriage for Top 8 U.S. Airlines

Alaska Airlines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       Local passengers: If your flight begins in a city, you will either be put on the next flight if space is available, on another airline or have the unused part of your fare refunded.

·       Transit passenger: If you’re connecting to another flight, you also get the first two options, but you can also be returned to your city of origin and get a full refund of the ticket. Alaska may also use surface transportation to get passengers to their final destination.

·       For 2+ hour delays, you get an apology and a discount on a future flight.

·       For cancelations 100+ miles from home: “hotel accommodations may be provided” for delays of more than 4 hours between 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. local time.

Delays or cancellations beyond the airline’s control:

·       The airline doesn’t offer compensation for events caused by air traffic control, a weather situation or “another extraordinary circumstance beyond Alaska’s control.”

American Airlines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       When a flight is canceled or delayed, the airline will rebook passengers on the next flight with available seats or refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees if the trip is canceled.

·       If the delay is American’s fault and it doesn’t board before 11:59 p.m. local time on the scheduled arrival day, it will arrange an overnight stay or pay for an approved hotel.

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       If the delay or cancellation is beyond the airline’s control, passengers are responsible for their own expenses.

·       For long delays, it will “make every reasonable effort” to offer crackers or biscuits, water, restrooms and basic medical help.

Delta Air Lines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       For cancellations, diversions or delays of more than 90 minutes, the airline will either put passengers on its next flight where seats are available in the class originally purchased, put them on another airline or provide ground transportation to their final destination.

·       Passengers also have the option of canceling the ticket and getting a refund on the unused part of it, along with any fees.

·       Delta will pay for one hotel room night or a flight voucher of up to $100 if there’s a delay of more than 4 hours after departure time or if the delay or cancellation is between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       Delta won’t be liable if the flight cancellation, diversion or delay was due to force majeure.

·       Force majeure covers weather; acts of God; riots, civil unrest, embargoes, war, hostilities; unsettled international conditions; strikes or any other labor-related disputes; government requirements; labor, fuel or facilities shortages; and any other conditions beyond the airline’s control.

Frontier Airlines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       When a passenger’s flight is canceled or delayed, the airline will transport them on its own flight.

·       Frontier won’t book you on another airline.

·       If the airline can’t get a passenger on one of their flights, then it will refund the unused part of the ticket.

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       If a force majeure event occurs, the airline may cancel, divert, or delay any flight without liability, except to provide a refund for the unused portion of the ticket.




Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       If a flight is canceled, passengers can choose between a full fare refund or re-accommodation on the next available JetBlue flight with space available.

·       Passengers get a $50 JetBlue credit for flights canceled within 4 hours of departure or a $100 credit for flights canceled after scheduled departure.

·       Passengers will receive a $75 credit for waits between 3 hours and 3 hours, 59 minutes after departure time, $100 for waits between 4 hours and 4 hours, 59 minutes, $150 for waits between 5 hours and 5 hours, 59 minutes and $250 for waits of 6 hours or more.

·       If travel is disrupted and a passenger is delayed more than 6 hours, the airline may provide meal vouchers or pizza, and/or a hotel voucher.

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       Passengers whose transportation is canceled due to a force majeure event or other events beyond the airline’s control will not be accommodated.

Southwest Airlines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       If your flight is canceled, terminated or delayed, Southwest will put you on another one of its flights, refund the unused part of the fare or give you an airline credit to use for future travel.

·       If a flight is diverted, the airline “will take reasonable steps to transport a passenger to his final destination or to provide reasonable accommodations.”

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       In the case of force majeure events, aviation safety or government request, a passenger will be refunded the unused part of their ticket.

Spirit Airlines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       When a flight is delayed, the airline “may” rebook a passenger on its first flight on which seats are available.

·       If a flight is canceled and rebooking is only available the next day, the airline “may” offer an overnight hotel night.

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       The airline won’t cover expenses caused by a flight delay, cancelation or schedule change, but it may provide limited amenities and services needed by certain guests to help with safety, health and welfare “as a courtesy, not an obligation.”

·       The airline won’t accommodate passengers affected by severe weather, air traffic control decisions or other issues outside of its control.

United Airlines

Delays or cancellation flights caused by airline:

·       United will put a passenger on its next available flight, put them on another carrier or refund the unused part of the fare.

·       The airline will either cover a hotel night or offer a fare voucher when a passenger is delayed by more than 4 hours between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m local time.

·       The airline will provide snacks and/or food and beverage vouchers in the event of an extensive delay it causes.

Delays or cancellations beyond airline’s control:

·       During a force majeure event, United may re-accommodate passengers on another available flight or on another carrier or combination of carriers.

·       It may offer ground transportation.

·       It may refund any unused portions of the ticket in the form of a travel certificate.

What to do when your flight has been canceled

When the worst happens, be sure to act quickly, and be prepared to jump through some hoops to get what you want from your airline. Check your carrier’s contract of carriage so you understand exactly what it will or will not do to accommodate you.

“Whether it’s caused by weather, air traffic control delays or a mechanical issue, there’s nothing you can do to control a flight delay or cancellation,” said Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst for CompareCards.com. “You have to accept that you’re going to be late.”

But you’re not without options. While you can’t control a cancellation or delay, there are steps you can take mitigate the effects and get you to your final destination as quickly as possible under the circumstances.

  1. Get on the phone with customer support. The first thing NOT to do is sprint over to an airline’s customer service desk, otherwise, you’ll be running with everyone else affected by delays and cancelations. You may get ahold of someone by phone more quickly than it takes to get to the front of the long queue of angry customers waiting at the airline’s counter.  But beware — you could be on the line for a long time if there are massive delays and cancelations across the country. If you don’t mind multitasking, hop in line while you’re on the phone.
  2. Take advantage of your airline status. If you have at least gold status on an airline’s loyalty program, you’ve got a friend. Most carriers have dedicated phone lines for their best customers, so you don’t have to wait for hours to get help. There’s also help available if you’re relaxing in an airline’s premium lounge.
  3. Check your airline’s website. Some airlines allow travelers to sign into their account and make their own alternative arrangements. And some even do it proactively, so your changes are already made when you log on. When this happens, carriers tend to waive change and cancelation fees, which can save you hundreds of dollars.
  4. Check your credit card and see how it may be able to help if you’re stuck. If you have a card that offers trip delay reimbursement, you may be able to get up to $500 per ticket for expenses such as meals and lodging if your flight is delayed for more than 12 hours. If your trip has been canceled or you’re forced to cut it short due to sickness, severe weather or other covered situations, trip cancelation insurance can reimburse you for up to $10,000 for prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours and hotels. Consult your card’s terms and conditions for details. “Trip insurance from your credit card can be a really great perk,” Schulz said. “Just don’t expect it to be quick or easy. There are rules, caps, exceptions and other nuances that can make it challenging to actually take advantage of the perk.”
  5. Ask your airline to put you on a better flight with a different carrier. If your flight is canceled, most legacy airlines will rebook you on their first flight to your destination where space is available, for free. Or they may put you on another airline. If you experience a significant delay, check competing airline websites or use a smartphone app like Kayak to find another flight and see if there’s space available. Once you find a flight with space, ask your original airline if they will endorse your ticket to the new carrier. This may not work for low-cost carriers, which don’t tend to have carriage agreements with other airlines, so you may have to pay out of pocket for what will probably be a full fare on those carriers.
  6. Use online tools to keep track of changes. The FAA maintains the Flight Delay Information – Air Traffic Control System Command Center, which uses a map to show general airport conditions using the red, yellow or green stop light signals. This can be used to get the latest info on delays while you’re sitting in an airport hold room waiting for flight updates. There are also plenty of apps — like FlightView, GateGuru, FlightAware, Planes Live – Flight Tracker, Flight Board, App in the Air, Flightradar24, and FlightStats — that can help you track flights and keep you up to date when there are delays or cancellations.
  7. Sign up for text alerts with your carrier.  Most airlines will text or email regular flight status notifications. Just sign up by flight and the carrier will notify you on what’s going on up in the air, including boarding, departures/arrivals, and status updates. This information sometimes gets to you before it gets to the gate agent.
  8. Get social. Most airlines now have social media teams tasked with helping passengers. You can reach out via Twitter or a Facebook page for updates.

Bottom line

In the end, there are many factors that cause delays and cancellations. And these factors are exacerbated during the summer travel season when record numbers of passengers take to the skies.

It can take only one regional storm, an air traffic control ground stop or a mechanical issue to cause delays or cancellations. This can cause a ripple effect, potentially inconveniencing thousands of passengers.

You can’t control these incidents, but using the tools and steps at your disposal listed above, you can help alleviate them. They can give you a leg up on getting to your final destination before those who don’t use these tools and tips.

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