What Travelers Should Know About Their Rights When a Flight is Canceled or Delayed

What Travelers Should Know About Their Rights When a Flight is Canceled or Delayed

In the latest blow to weary winter air travelers, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system failure grounded thousands of departing flights nationwide on Wednesday morning.

While the FAA’s ground stop has since been lifted and normal air traffic operations are resuming gradually, travelers continue to be impacted by unexpected delays and cancellations. Plus, on the heels of last month’s Southwest Airlines’ debacle and other notable flight disruptions experienced in recent months due to weather, staffing shortages and surging demand, it’s important that travelers understand their rights.


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“In all cases for issues beyond an airline’s control, like today‚Äôs FAA outage, airlines are not required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or canceled,” says Eric Napoli, VP of Legal Strategy at AirHelp, an air passenger rights company.

Unfortunately, “U.S. national law does not offer much protection for avoidable travel disruptions,” Napoli points out. When it comes to the U.S., “compensation is only required if passengers are denied boarding from an oversold flight.”

“In that case, the limit of the compensation is $1,550 for delays in arrival over two hours for domestic flights and over four hours for international flights,” he added. “Below that, the limit is $775. However, if you accept a voucher and give up your seat, you are not entitled to compensation.”

Passengers’ rights could hopefully be expanded in the future as the Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to push for better compensation for impacted travelers.

In terms of cancellations, only travelers who cancel their trip as a result of a canceled flight are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation, even for non-refundable tickets, according to DOT. “You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment,” the department states.

However, travelers should keep in mind that they will not be reimbursed for any trip costs affected by the canceled flight such as a hotel stay or cruise vacation, among others.

That means for now, U.S. passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily due to oversales are among the few entitled to compensation “based on the price of their ticket, the length of time that they are delayed in getting to their destination because of being denied boarding, and whether their flight is a domestic flight or an international flight leaving from the United States,” according to Napoli.

“Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $775,” says Napoli. “Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights will receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $1,550.”

Visit AirHelp.com or Transportation.gov for more information.

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