What Travel Providers Owe Travelers Displaced by Weather

Stuck due to a weather system? Travelers may be on their own.

What does your carrier owe you if your trip is cancelled by weather?
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Throughout the year, travelers are often displaced by weather events around the world. From blizzards that can bring airplanes to a halt, to hurricanes that can stop more than just air routes, the worst weather creates havoc for travelers of every type. When the skies turn dark, what do travel providers owe their ticketed passengers?

While travelers are often entitled to compensation and accommodation as a result of many situations, weather is one of the few events where a travel provider’s obligation to their clients is varied. When weather affects even the best planned itineraries, travelers are often surprised by what travel providers are obligated to do for displaced passengers. Here’s a brief rundown of what travel providers are obligated to do for their ticket holders when Mother Nature stops travels in progress.

Carriers are obligated to honor booked tickets

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor other weather-related situations can get a travel provider out of providing their base service for affected travelers. No matter the weather, travel providers are legally obligated to provide the transportation service for all booked travelers by both the conditions of carriage and international law. And while a travel provider can cancel travels based on weather conditions, they still must provide transport to ticketed passengers.

As a result, travel providers will often make provisions for travelers displaced by weather, including offering free transfers to travel that is either earlier or later than the original plans. Travel providers have the option to provide alternate methods for travelers to get to their destination, including using other travel providers (similar to Rule 240) or entirely alternate means to get travelers to a destination (including buses and trains). If it is impossible to get travelers to their final destination, then travel providers may offer travelers a credit towards future travel, and even a refund of travel costs.

Travel providers may offer additional support (but are not obligated to)

Although travel providers are obligated to get travelers to their destination, travelers are often on their own when it comes to waiting out the storm. In many situations, travel providers are not required to assist travelers with accommodations, including hotel rooms and meals.

Unlike involuntary boarding denials, the rules for weather delays and cancellations are limited. The FAA does not provide a set of rules on what travelers are entitled to when the skies turn dark, even if the weather event can be predicted well ahead of time. Therefore, travelers shouldn’t be surprised by being forced to pay for expenses out of pocket if a trip is significantly delayed or cancelled.

Although travel providers are not required to assist travelers who are affected by weather situations, there are certain provisions carriers can offer offer stuck passengers. Those who are displaced during their travel can often ask agents for a displaced traveler discount at nearby hotels, in order to reduce some of the expenses of their weather-based delay. Discount vouchers are usually given at the discretion of carrier employees.

How travel insurance is affected by weather

Simply put, travel insurance was made for situations like weather delays. When the weather turns gray and passengers are stuck in transit, many travel insurance benefits can reimburse insureds for any incurred expenses. For example, trip delay benefits can reimburse travelers for unplanned expenses if a delay goes beyond a reasonable amount of time (usually between six and 12 hours). Hotel rooms, extra meals, and provisional items required by travelers due to the trip delay or trip cancellation may be covered by a travel insurance policy.

However, travel insurance can only be applied when purchased ahead of a known event. Many weather occurrences, like named winter storms and hurricanes, are often deemed as “known events” by insurance companies. As a result, travel insurance policies purchased after the known event is identified will not cover delays or cancellations caused by the storm. Those travelers who are concerned about weather affecting their travel plans should purchase travel insurance as soon as they begin booking their travel.

By understanding what a carrier will and will not do for passengers when weather strikes, travelers can make better travel decisions. Knowing what travelers are (and are not) entitled to during all seasons can keep passengers comfortable and warm – no matter what happens.  

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