The Christmas and New Year’s holidays were stressful for airline passengers, with thousands of flights cancelled or significantly delayed. It was the perfect combination of bad weather, strong customer demand, staffing shortages, and a lack of operating aircraft. Unfortunately, these problems are still lingering with daily reports of ongoing issues. As an air passenger, what can you do to navigate these hiccups when they arise? Denise answers your top questions below.
Do I have any legal recourse when flights are cancelled or significantly delayed?
You might be surprised to learn that as a passenger, you do not have a legal right to compensation. The DOT enforcement policy is to require a refund if a flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, but an individual passenger cannot legally enforce the policy. To pile onto the bad news, it also follows that airlines have no liability for other losses associated with a cancelled or delayed flight such as missed connections, hotel charges, missed cruises, etc.
Okay, but what am I entitled to per the DOT policy?
Airlines most always adhere to the DOT policy, but it’s important to know what you’re entitled to. For one-to-two hour domestic delays, the airline is required to pay you $775, for domestic delays over two hours the amount increases to $1,550. There are many exceptions to this such as weather issues, or when the airline switches to a smaller aircraft, in which no compensation is due. Also know that the airlines may offer you flight vouchers instead of cash, but they must provide cash when requested (we recommend this option as vouchers typically have a one-year lifespan).
If I don’t have legal recourse, how do I make sure I get the most from the airline?
While you as a passenger don’t have a legal right to enforce the DOT rules, be polite but firm in expressing what you want if you run into issues with the airline. If a certain flight works better for you than what they’ve booked you on, ask for it! Just know that if an airline transfers you to another flight on the same carrier or another, it does so as a gesture of goodwill.
What if I’m bumped from a flight?
Airlines bank on the fact that about 5-15% of passengers booked on any given flight will not show up. While more than 90% of people bumped from a flight do it voluntarily (with negotiated compensation), occasionally there are no takers and a few unlucky passengers are denied boarding. When this happens, the compensation process is the same as a delayed or cancelled flight. Also note that the airline cannot bump you once it has honored your boarding pass and allowed you to board.
Do you have other tips for avoiding or lessening the impact of flight issues?
The key is to purchase a good travel insurance policy even for domestic trips which will reimburse you for travel delays, missed connections, and the portion of your trip/cruise missed. Also have a backup plan when possible. What does a backup plan look like? It could mean booking a flight that arrives 1-2 days prior to your cruise departure to build in some buffer. Or for closer destinations, perhaps have a plan to drive if things go awry. Staying proactive and self-reliant is always a good idea; for example, it’s sometimes better to just book another flight yourself and deal with the refunds later.