Flight Delay or Cancellation? Here's What You're Entitled To

by  Darren Murph | Dec 5, 2013
Plane / Biletskiy_Evgeniy/iStock

As the saying goes, even the best laid plans go awry. And that caveat is truer than ever during the holidays, when airlines routinely have to cancel, re-route, or delay flights due to inclement weather. Understandably, you may be traveling soon to see friends or family, or perhaps burn a few well-deserved vacation days before year’s end. Whatever the case may be, it’s always worth understanding your rights if you run into any major hiccups at the airport.

If you're headed to Europe...
If you’re traveling to, from, or through Europe this winter, keep Regulation 261/2004 in mind. Established in 2005, the rule effectively protects those flying through the European Union from being taken advantage of by airlines. In the event that your flight gets cancelled, this rule forces the airlines to swallow the cost of re-routing you to your intended destination at the earliest possible flight time; a refund of the ticket as well as a return flight (when applicable); and a cash payment up to 600 EUR as well as a flight to your final destination. There’s a succinct guide here that explains all the fine print. (Be aware that airlines will generally resist the cash payment, even if it’s warranted. This is a pretty typical play, but if you keep at it, they’ll usually cave.)

If your flight is overbooked...
Holiday flights are crammed, and oftentimes, airlines will overbook these planes in hopes that some passengers won’t show, or will otherwise change their plans at the last minute. However, if more people show up than there are seats on the plane, the airline will ask for volunteers to take a later flight. If that doesn’t solve the issue, you may be involuntarily bumped to a flight in the future. If that happens, you’re entitled to compensation up to $1,300 depending on the circumstances, and you can find the details for claiming what’s yours right here.

If you're flying on a U.S. carrier...
Just as important as realizing what rights you do have is understanding what rights you don’t have. While it baffles many to hear it, U.S.-based airlines are not required to provide meals, overnight accommodation, or compensation if a flight is delayed or cancelled by matters outside of its control. (Just so you’re aware, about the only items that are within an airline’s control are required maintenance and availability of a flight crew.)

To that end, it's advisable to book an earlier flight than necessary this holiday season for two reasons. First, you may end up in an oversold situation where you’re given a healthy voucher (usually $200 to $600 per person) for being flexible enough to take a later flight. Secondly, airlines are able to look into many more options when it comes to re-routing if you’re at the airport early in the day versus late at night.

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