Crowd of people waiting to board their flight at the airport (photo by Eric Bowman)
With record numbers of flyers this summer and seemingly a record number of delays and cancellations by airlines who overbook flights and cancel them at an unprecedented rate due to overscheduling and workforce shortages, travelers are right to be concerned about whether their next air travel experience will be fraught with trouble.
The U.S. Department of Transportation publishes guidance on everything from delays and cancellations to what a traveler should do when they are bumped from a flight.
Airlines are not required by law to provide compensation to passengers of flights that are delayed or canceled; they are only required to compensate passengers of flights that have been oversold and who are bumped from their flights.
In any case, there is some important information the DOT provides about delayed or canceled flights.
If a traveler is stranded in the airport due to a long delay, they can ask the airline staff if they’ll pay for food or a hotel room through vouchers; not all will provide these perks, but some can.
If their flight is canceled, the airline should rebook a traveler on the next flight to the same destination, provided that plane has seats available; sometimes they can even book a passenger on another airline if they don’t have seats available on any of their flights, but they are not required to do so.
If there isn’t an available flight or a traveler chooses to cancel their trip, the airline is required to refund a traveler for the unused flights, even for non-refundable tickets. Bag fees and any extras should also be refunded.
Airlines are not required to reimburse travelers for any other travel expenses due to cancellations, such as a missed cruise or tour, hotel rooms or other expenses. Some airlines can provide hotel or food vouchers to those who have had their flights canceled, but it depends on the specific airline.
If a flight has been oversold, it means that the airline has sold more tickets to passengers than the plane can accommodate. In this case, the airline will almost always take volunteers to reschedule or cancel the flight and receive compensation for their troubles.
The rate of compensation a traveler can receive for volunteering to bump their flight depends on the delay they’ll experience. If a volunteer can get on a flight leaving up to one hour later than their originally booked domestic flight, they receive no compensation. If their delay on a domestic flight is 1 to 2 hours delayed, they can receive twice the original one-way fare up to $775; the compensation can grow to 4 times the original fare up to $1,550 if their next flight is 2 hours or more later.
For international flights, the delay is more significant. Volunteers receive no compensation for up to one hour in delay, but can receive twice the amount of their one-way fare for a delay ranging from 1 to 4 hours. They can receive 4 times their original fare if they encounter a 4-hour or more delay.
There are also a few tricks to help travelers receive the most compensation for their headaches during an oversold flight: when the airline calls for multiple volunteers, a volunteer can request their compensation to be the same amount as the final volunteer’s, which can be higher than the first volunteer due to necessity.
Travelers can also request other perks like meal and hotel vouchers, access to airport lounges, or even business class upgrades on their next flight, which the airlines are more than willing to provide when they oversell more than a few seats.
Travel delays, cancellations and oversold flights are often out of travelers’ hands, but there are benefits to knowing what they are entitled to in these situations; travelers should read more on the DOT website or read their chosen airline’s policies to keep informed ahead of their travels this summer.
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