Passenger Rights for Flight Delays and Cancellations in the United States

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Over the past year, the United States experienced over 160,000 canceled airline flights and over 2 million flight delays. These disruptions can significantly impact your travel plans and present unexpected challenges. However, clearly understanding your rights and knowing the appropriate steps to take can enhance your ability to deal with these situations effectively.

Next, we will answer the following questions:

  1. What are my rights as a passenger for airline flight delays and cancellations?
  2. What should I do if my flight is delayed?
  3. What are my options if my flight is canceled?
  4. How can I stay informed about my airline flight status in real-time?
  5. What compensation can I expect for a delayed or canceled flight?
  6. Are there any exceptions to compensation for flight delay disruptions?

What are my rights as a passenger for airline flight delays and cancellations?

Passenger rights for flight delays and cancellations in the United States are safeguarded by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Passenger Bill of Rights. These rights include:

  • Right to information: Airlines are obligated to inform passengers about delays, cancellations, and the reasons behind them. Passengers have the right to receive updates on the flight’s status, both at the airport and through the airline’s communication channels, per the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations.
  • Right to compensation for involuntary bumping: Passengers have the right to compensation if they are involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight. However, the compensation amount depends on several factors, including the length of the delay caused by the bump and the ticket price. For short delays, the compensation can be up to 200% of the one-way fare, while for longer delays, it can be up to 400%. The DOT does have maximum limits for compensation, but these limits can change periodically, so it’s essential to check the DOT’s official website or the airline’s policies for the most up-to-date information.
  • Right to refund or rebooking: Passengers may choose between a refund of their ticket price or rebooking on the next available flight to their destination if the flight is canceled or significantly delayed due to the airline’s fault. Airlines are required to provide accommodations, such as meals and overnight stays, for lengthy delays. However, the precise policies and the threshold defining a significant delay can vary among airlines.

What should I do if my flight is delayed?

In the event of an airline flight delay, it’s crucial to act promptly. Start by checking your flight’s real-time status on the airline’s website, mobile app, or airport information displays. Once you’re informed about the delay, seek assistance from the airline staff at the airport. They can help you with rebooking or offer alternative travel options. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the airline’s policies regarding compensation and assistance during delays. While there’s no official requirement for passengers to receive a refund or reimbursement due to a flight delay, airlines are expected to provide reasonable care, including meals and accommodations, for extended delays. However, please note that each airline has its policies for compensating passengers in case of delays, which may vary.

What are my options if my flight is canceled?

The Department of Transportation (DOT) mandates that travelers are entitled to a refund when flights are canceled. In the event of a flight cancellation, it’s important to consider the following options:

  • Rebooking: Airlines typically provide the option to rebook on the next available flight to your destination at no additional cost. You can discuss alternative travel arrangements with airline staff.
  • Refund: If the cancellation is within the airline’s control, such as due to maintenance or scheduling issues, you have the right to request a full refund of your ticket price, even for non-refundable fares.
  • Compensation: The compensation received for a canceled flight varies based on the specific circumstances and the airline’s policies. For example, if the cancellation is due to the airline’s fault, you may be eligible for compensation, which can vary from a fixed amount to a percentage of the ticket price. 

To explore the specific services offered by the ten largest airlines in the United States in case of a cancellation or delay, you can refer to the DOT page, which provides information on:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • United Airlines

How can I stay informed about my airline flight status in real-time?

To stay informed about your flight status in real-time, you have several options. You can check the airline’s official website or use their mobile app, which usually details delays, gate changes, and boarding times. Additionally, consider downloading flight tracking apps like FlightAware or FlightRadar24 for up-to-date information on departure and arrival times, gate changes, and delays. Signing up for email or text alerts offered by the airline is another convenient way to receive notifications about any changes to your flight. Finally, once you’re at the airport, glance at the information displayed near your departure gate for the latest updates on your flight.

What compensation can I expect for a delayed or canceled flight?

Before discussing what you might get if your flight is late or canceled, know that airlines have rules in something called “contracts of carriage.” These contracts detail the airline’s obligations to passengers in various situations. These are the contracts of carriage for American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and United Airlines. Now, let’s break down the potential compensation:

  • Meals and accommodation: In cases of significant delays, airlines are expected to provide vouchers for meals and hotel accommodations. This is particularly relevant when passengers face prolonged waits at the airport due to the airline’s fault.
  • Alternative transportation: Airlines should prioritize getting you to your destination as swiftly as possible. They can achieve this by arranging an alternative flight through their services or collaborating with other carriers.
  • Refunds: If the airline cancels your flight, you’re entitled to a full refund of your ticket price. Additionally, depending on the circumstances and the airline’s policies, you might be eligible for additional compensation beyond the refund. These details are in the airline’s contract of carriage, so it’s crucial to review this document for clarity.

Are there any exceptions to compensation for flight delay disruptions?

Yes, there are exceptions to compensation, typically related to extraordinary circumstances:

  • Weather-related issues: Airlines are not usually obligated to provide compensation when delays or cancellations result from severe weather conditions or natural disasters, as these are considered extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.
  • Air traffic control decisions: Delays caused by air traffic control decisions, such as ground stops or traffic flow management, are generally not eligible for compensation. These decisions are made for safety reasons and are beyond the airline’s control.
  • Security concerns: Security-related disruptions, such as airport closures due to security threats or emergencies, are also considered extraordinary circumstances, and compensation may not apply.

It’s essential to understand that even if compensation is not mandated in exceptional circumstances, airlines are still required to provide reasonable assistance to passengers during these disruptions, including meals, accommodations, and alternative transportation when necessary.

Mitzi Colin Lopez is a Digital Ads Content Creator and Experimenter at Noticias Para Inmigrantes. Her origin as a Mexican immigrant characterizes and drives her to empower the Latinx, Hispanic and immigrant communities. She is a recent graduate of West Chester University, where she obtained her bachelor’s in Political Science and Spanish. Her passions include social justice, advocacy, hiking, traveling, and weightlifting.