It's almost as inescapable and unavoidable as death and taxes: If you travel by air, either a little or a lot, at some point in time you'll probably have to deal with delayed or canceled flights. Airlines cancel or delay flights all the time, and for a lot of different reasons, such as bad weather, like snow, ice and wind conditions; heavy air traffic; and mechanical or maintenance problems. Anyone of these reasons may make you late for that business meeting, family gathering or long-awaited vacation.
However, there are some things you can do to that may save you some money and aggravation, such as protecting yourself before you book a flight or demanding your money back.
Regardless of what you may have heard or been told, there's no federal law that requires an airline to give you anything if your flight is delayed or canceled. Nonetheless, every airline has its own set of rules or policies about what it will and won't do for passengers when a flight is canceled or delayed. For example, the airline may or may not offer you:
- Accommodations at a local hotel until the next available flight
- Payment for meals or telephone calls
- Discounts on future flights
- A seat on another airline going to your destination, at a discount or at the same price you paid for your ticket
While you're making your travel plans, you should ask the airline about its policies for cancelations and delays.
This general rule doesn't apply if you've been bumped from a flight, that is, you had a ticket and reservation but weren't allowed to board the plane because it was oversold or "overbooked." In these cases, airlines are required to compensate you in some way, such as alternate travel plans or cash payments. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has detailed rules on this.
What You Can Do
There are some things you can do before you buy your ticket and after your flight's been canceled or delayed that may help ease the stress of the situation:
Preparing for the Trip
Buy travel insurance. This will help protect you against having to pay all of the costs involved when a flight is canceled or delayed. There are several companies that offer trip insurance, which you can buy online or through a travel agent. Usually this insurance covers a wide range of things including canceled flights, medical emergencies, and lost luggage, and often comes with travel advice and assistance. Not only will this cover financial loss, but it could also provide you with help finding another flight if necessary.
Bring extra money. When packing, take some extra money just in case. Whether you have to buy tickets on a different airline or just an extra meal in the overpriced airport restaurant, having money set aside will help you avoid having to skimp on meals while you're traveling or having to use credit cards to pay for meals, which may lead to a lot of extra debt when get back home.
Have a backup plan. It's a good idea to know what you'll do in the face of a flight problem before you actually encounter one. Know where alternative nearby airports are, take a few extra day's worth of prescription medications, and know where you might be able to stay if you can't get to your destination.