Every traveler dreads that fateful moment when they arrive at the airport on the last day of vacation only to find that the flight home has been delayed (or worse: canceled). You don't want to wait until you're stranded at the gate to plot your plan of action. Know what to expect if your flight gets delayed or canceled so that you can maximize on those passenger rights.
You might have already learned the hard way that flight schedules are never guaranteed. Airlines cancel flights for a multitude of reasons—ranging from employee strikes to plane maintenance—and your benefits as a passenger fluctuate accordingly.
Airlines typically don't offer compensation if a flight is delayed or canceled due to reasons beyond its control. This could include a major weather incident or an airline union strike. However, if the delay or cancellation is caused by something the airline could deem preventable, such as equipment maintenance or inadequate staffing, you might have a right to compensation.
Know Your Passenger Rights
There once was a time when airlines were required to transfer passengers to another carrier if the second one could get them to their destination sooner. That was guaranteed by the Federal Aviation Administration's Rule 240, which was undone by airline deregulation in 1978.
Now, the fate of travelers lies within each airline's contract of carriage. Because airlines have their own sets of policies these days, there is no universal rulebook here. Seeking guidance on an airline website is no easy feat, either, especially when you're sifting frantically through jargon-heavy contracts from your phone at the gate.
So, do yourself a favor and download or bookmark this information on your phone or another device before you head for the airport. Make it part of your packing ritual: toothbrush, passport, airline policies—check.
Maximize Your Compensation
Even though there are no longer federal requirements that guarantee compensation in the case of a delay or cancellation, leaving customers stranded in Tampa is bad form, so airlines typically make room for passengers on the next flight.
Don't be afraid to ask for the compensation you feel is fair. Call up the customer service line or go to the airline website while you wait and request a refund or an alternate flight.
Some airlines rely on passengers to ask for what they want rather than presenting them with every available option. Delta's contract, for instance, says, "Delta will (at passenger's request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment..."
Passengers can use the money they've been refunded to book on another carrier. In fact, some airlines will do the booking on their behalf. Carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta also provide passengers with hotel accommodation, meal vouchers, and ground transportation in the case of overnight delays, according to their respective conditions of carriage.
You might just be surprised by how much the airline is willing to accommodate you, even if only to avoid negative reviews.