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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Know Your Travel Rights

We've all been there. You get to the airport and sit down to wait for your flight and then wham! Flight Delayed! Or worse, your flight is totally cancelled. What the??? Now what? 

What to do when you get to the airport and your flight is delayed or, even worse, canceled.

With staff shortages and fewer routes due to Covid, delays and cancelations are becoming more normal. Airlines are still trying their best, even if they are also still overbooking. 

If your flight is cancelled
In this worst-case scenario, the airline will rebook you on the next available flight. If there's another flight on another airline that leaves earlier, you might be able to talk them into transfer you over, at their expense.

If your flight is delayed or you get bumped
Yeah, this sucks, but not as much as your flight being totally cancelled. Most airlines overbook flights, meaning if everyone checks in, someone's not making it on the plane, because there aren't enough seats. If you don't mind waiting, you can volunteer to get on the next available flight and make someone's day. (Sometimes you are made aware of overbookings on the airline's app. The last time I flew, I got a push notification asking if I wanted to leave on a later flight for a voucher.) Even if you don't want to and are the unfortunate one to get stuck at the airport, it's not the worst thing ever. Here's what you can do though:
  • Next time, get to the airport earlier. Like 2 hours before your flight. 3 hours if you're flying internationally. Or, just check in as soon as you can and hope you make it to the airport before the flight starts boarding.
  • If you get bumped, make sure you're comped. 
    • For flights that arrive one to two hours later than your scheduled arrival time, you're entitled to the one-way fare of your ticket up to $400.
    • If you're delayed two to four hours from your original scheduled arrival time, you're entitled to 200% of the one-way fare, up to $700.
    • If you arrive more than four hours later than your scheduled arrival time you're entitled to 400% of the one-way fare, up to $1400. If this requires an overnight stay in a hotel, the airline will almost always pay for it and also give you vouchers for meals.
    • Ask for cash, instead of vouchers. Cash works just as well and has no black-out dates or other stipulations. Plus, you can use it on another airline if you find a better deal, or blow it all on your trip when you finally get on it.
    • If your flight arrives an hour or less than your original arrival time, you aren't entitled to anything, but that doesn't mean you can't maybe ask for miles, a free drink or something similar. Be nice about it though, because that's really the only way the gate crew are going to want to do a little extra for you.
  • Unfortunately, flight delay rules only apply to delays that result from a foreseen circumstance like a plane change. If the delay is weather-related, the airlines aren't required to comp you at all. Anything they give you is up to the representative's discretion.

If your flight has been changed
This always sucks, but it rarely happens that flight times change more than a few minutes either way. In even more rare cases, you may be informed that your flight departure destination has been changed. Um, what? If either of these things happen and have made your travel inconvenient for you, the airline is only obligated to refund your purchase price and send you on your way. 

Of course, some airlines are more generous than others, and better at customer service. We had to wait on the tarmac on one flight for about an hour and when I got home from my trip I had an email giving us both $50 flight vouchers for our troubles, which I didn't even feel was that big a deal. It was nice though and one of the many reasons Alaska is my preferred airline.

Always check each airline's terms and conditions when it comes to delays and cancelations. And if you end up getting stuck in the position where one of these things happen to you, don't just settle for standing in line to talk to a gate representative. While you're in line, get on the phone with the airline (or use their text-back system) or get on their social media to see if you can get helped sooner than the line moves.

I hope your future trips are all awesome, but if they aren't, you are, at least, armed with knowledge. Carry snacks in your bag, just in case, and some non-digital entertainment. 

What's your worst flight delay or cancelation story? 

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