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  • Writer's pictureLeslie A. Farber

Flight Delayed or Cancelled? Know Your Rights

woman sitting with her head resting on her arms folded on top of a suitcase

Flight delays and cancellations have become a regular occurrence this summer. Air travel is on the rebound after several years of travel restrictions, but staffing shortages, inflation, and computer glitches have created headaches for vacation-minded travelers at airports in the U.S. and around the world.

While airlines strive to get passengers to their destinations on time, there are many factors that make it difficult for flights to arrive as scheduled. Some problems, like bad weather, air traffic delays, and mechanical issues, are beyond the airlines’ control. Unfortunately, passengers are not required to be compensated by the airline if their flight is delayed or canceled for these reasons.

In fact, there is no umbrella policy that protects passengers traveling on airlines operating to, from, or within the U.S. when their flights are delayed or cancelled. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), federal law only requires compensation when certain passengers are bumped from a flight that has been oversold. However, each airline has its own policies about what it will and won’t do for delayed or canceled passengers. Now more than ever, it is important to know your rights before you find yourself stranded at the airport.

In the case of flight delays, airlines are required to provide passengers with information about a change in the status of their flight if it is scheduled to depart within 7 days. If your flight is delayed, you can try to arrange another flight with your airline (check first to see if you will be charged a fee and/or a higher fare for changing your reservation.)

You may be able to get the airline to agree to transfer your ticket to another carrier if you find an available seat. Keep in mind that there are no regulations requiring airlines to put you on another airline’s flight or to reimburse you if you purchase a ticket on another airline. In the event of a significant delay, ask your airline if they offer meal vouchers or will pay for hotel accommodations.

When your flight is cancelled, you have two basic contractual rights on any airline, subject to minor variations: a seat on your original airline's next available flight to your destination, or a refund for the unused portion of your ticket – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any extra fees tied directly to the airline ticket. However, airlines are not required to reimburse you for any trip costs affected by the cancelled flight, such as a prepaid hotel room, cruise, vacation, or wedding.

Request that your airline issue your refund in the same form as you purchased the ticket, either cash or credit. If the airline offers you a voucher for future travel, make sure you ask if there are any restrictions such as blackout and expiration dates, advanced booking requirements, or limits on the number of seats.

If an airline cancels a flight well before the scheduled departure time, it often automatically rebooks passengers and notifies them via e-mail or text. If the new flight does not suit your schedule, identifying possible solutions and suggesting your own alternatives may save time and aggravation.

When a flight is oversold, the DOT requires airlines to compensate for both voluntary and involuntary bumped passengers. If you are involuntarily bumped from your flight, the amount you receive depends on the price of the ticket and the length of the resulting delay. Note that the airline must pay you via check or cash, not with a voucher for future travel.


The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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