Your rights if your flight gets canceled

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Cancelled flights
Image Credit: Associated Press

Flying is a great way to travel when things are going well — but when impending storms are on the horizon, that’s when flights get delayed or canceled and things get dicey.

This is usually when people have the most concerns about canceled flights. One of the more prevalent questions that fliers want to know is: What are your rights?

What to do when a flight is canceled

The reality is when an airline cancels a flight due to weather or mechanical problems, they don’t have to do anything for you. Nothing. So it pays to be aware of what’s up before you go to the airport and get stranded there!

About 70% of air travel in the United States is controlled by three full-fare airlines. They each have so many different flight hubs around the country. So you want to see if you can get rerouted through another hub that’s not impacted by the storm corridor.

But ultimately, whether it’s a massive storm or what have you, it may be one of those situations where if you don’t have to go anywhere near it, then you shouldn’t!

Airlines are given a wide berth to draw up their contracts however they wish. They only have a responsibility to take your money. Everything else is on you.

So while you have to pay the full-fare airlines a fee if you need to change a flight, they don’t have to pay you anything if they change a flight. It is a stacked deck.

Here are 3 steps to take to avoid a canceled flight

1. Safety comes first

Whenever there’s a storm or any trouble affecting your airline, your first responsibility is to be safe. The reality of the situation is if you’re not traveling into or out of where the danger is, then it will not have a significant impact on your life.

2. In general, you never want to book the last flight of the day…

The reason why you want to avoid booking the last flight of the evening is because if anything goes wrong, you could be stranded overnight.

3. … or the first flight of the day

Nor should you book the first flight of the day. The rationale behind this is because that flight will be impacted if something went wrong the previous night.

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The best hours to fly are between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. That may not fit your schedule, but those are the best hours.

If you’re ever in a situation where you book a flight way in advance and there is a schedule change, you need to fight for re-accommodation or a refund. It’s reasonable to expect a full refund if your nonstop suddenly becomes a changeover and you find out well in advance.

You’ve got to stand up for yourself and assert your rights.

Your rights when bumped from a flight

Have you ever been bumped from a flight? There are some things you should know in order to maximize your compensation.

  • Membership has its privileges: Airlines will typically offer a guaranteed seat on any flight to the highest level members of their frequent flier program. That means they are going to be asking for volunteers willing to give up a seat.
  • Free tickets vs. vouchers: The offers vary by airline. If you are a volunteer, it will be free tickets or a voucher for a dollar amount like a gift certificate. But many airlines restrict the way you can redeem those vouchers. So if it’s a choice between a voucher and a certificate for future travel, take the certificate.
  • When to take the cash: If you are involuntarily bumped from a flight, they are required to give you cold, hard cash if you ask. It will be up to 400% of what you paid for your ticket, with a hard cap of $1,200. That’s if you are forced off the flight to accommodate a frequent flier.

That’s when it’s a case of show me the money!

Read more about your rights as an airline passenger at the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the US Department of Transportation.

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