On 9/1/2022, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled a new dashboard that explains the services each airline provides to passengers in the event of a controllable cancellation or delay. This provides one location where travelers can quickly and easily compare airlines to see whether services such as meal vouchers, hotel stays, and rebooking on another carrier are offered. Many are surprised to learn there are few requirements for airlines to accommodate passengers, so this is viewed as a positive step forward in adding transparency. In this article we describe what events are considered controllable, and the voluntary and mandatory services airlines offer.
What is a controllable event? A controllable flight delay or cancellation includes aircraft maintenance, crew problems, cabin cleaning, baggage loading, and fueling. During controllable events, the DOT dashboard compares which airlines offer the following. Be sure to note there are two charts, one for flight cancellation and one for delay.
- Rebooking a passenger on the same airline at no additional cost
- Rebooking a passenger on another airline at no additional cost
- Providing a meal or meal cash/voucher when the cancellation results in a passenger waiting three hours or more for new flight
- Providing complimentary hotel accommodations for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation
- Providing complimentary ground transportation to and from a hotel for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation
Note that issues surrounding weather or air traffic control are NOT considered controllable events.
How do the airlines line up on offering these accommodations? Once notified that the dashboard was rolling out, airlines upped their game in clarifying what services they offered. As of September 2022, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and United promise all the above during a controllable event. Southwest offers all except promising to book on another carrier. Other airlines, including several ultra low cost carriers (ULCCs) vary on what they will commit to.
What about oversold flights and getting bumped from the plane? Unfortunately, a paid-for ticket in hand doesn’t always guarantee a seat on the plane. Banking on the fact that some passengers won’t show up, airlines are allowed to oversell flights. Check out our article on this subject where we discuss how to reduce your risk of being bumped, as well as what you can do if it happens.
What are my rights getting a refund when the flight is cancelled? According to the DOT, airlines are required to offer refunds if the passenger does not accept the alternative itinerary provided. This includes both controllable and uncontrollable events, even for nonrefundable tickets. In most cases you can request a refund on your airline’s website and expect a refund within a few weeks. If you’ve booked a first class ticket and are reassigned to an economy seat due to the flight change, you also are entitled to the fare difference refund. While rare, if the airline isn’t complying with your request, you may file a complaint with the DOT here.
What’s the best way to prevent issues and make sure I receive what I’m entitled to? Occasional flight delays and cancellations are an inevitable part of traveling. While the new DOT dashboard will help air travelers make informed choices, the key is still to purchase a good travel insurance policy even for domestic trips which will reimburse you for travel delays, missed connections, and even 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, informed, and self-reliant is always a good idea, and when working with your airline staying polite but persistent goes a long way.