Getting a flight canceled is a pain, but it’s even worse when you’re curled up in a corner of some airport, trying to sleep before your rescheduled flight. The U.S. Department of Transportation is making new rules that would take a little bit of the sting out of such situations by compensating passengers for a delayed or canceled flight.
Holidays 2022 proved to be a frustrating time for thousands of travelers stranded in airports because of unprecedented Southwest Airlines flight cancellations — with over 15,000 canceled flights. Even if you weren’t one of the unfortunate folks stranded, the ordeal may have you wondering, what are you entitled to if your flight is delayed or canceled? Are you legally owed some sort of compensation for delayed flights?
In a letter from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, he reported that Southwest canceled 59% of their flights during Christmas week, mainly due to circumstances within the airline’s control. Now, months later, the Department of Transportation has rolled out new rules that compensate passengers for situations like this.
The new rules, announced in a May 8 press release, follow some other positive changes for passengers. In February, they passed along new rules that prevent airlines from charging extra for kids to sit with their adult guardians. And in April the government ordered six airlines to refund customers more than $600 million for flights that were canceled or significantly changed.
So what will these new rules surrounding canceled or rescheduled flights mean for you? Before you book your next trip, here’s what you need to know about flight delays and cancellations, your consumer rights, and the policies of the most popular airlines.
You’ll get paid if your flight is delayed or canceled for something the airline could control.
If your flight is canceled or delayed because of things that the airline could control — things like mechanical problems with the plane, not having enough crew members, or scheduling mishaps — the new rules would require airlines to pay you for your trouble.
Airlines will now cover things like hotels and ground transportation, while offering things like vouchers or frequent flier points.
In the event of significant flight delays or cancellations, airlines may offer various types of compensation to affected passengers, including:
- Rebooking at no additional cost
- Meals or meal vouchers for airport restaurants
- Hotel accommodations for overnight delays
- Ground transportation to and from the hotel
- Credit or travel vouchers for future travel
- Frequent flyer miles
Remember, the specific compensation you might receive depends on the airline’s policy, the length of the delay, and sometimes even factors like the reason for the delay or cancellation. Always check with the airline for their specific policies.
Sorry, you won’t get compensated for weather-related inconveniences.
The weather isn’t something the airlines can control, so although that freak blizzard in Minneapolis can ruin your vacation, there’s not going to be any kind of payment for you.
Although lots of flights were canceled around Christmas 2022, with many attributing it to bad weather, it is notable that 90% of these cancellations came from Southwest Airlines for some of those issues that were technically in their control … issues like:
- Unexpected staffing shortages due to illness
- Computer system outages
- Poor communication practices
So, while you wouldn’t get anything for bad weather, Southwest passengers back in late 2022 would, under the new rules, have been compensated.
Related: Here’s how to find a military discount on airline tickets.
There’s no exact timeline for when airlines are supposed to compensate you.
If you believe you’re owed compensation, start by reaching out to the airline (at the airport, over the phone, or even via social media). They’ll guide you on the next steps, which usually involves filling out a form or emailing customer service. Be sure to keep all relevant documents and receipts, especially if you incurred extra expenses. These will be crucial in verifying your claims and resolving potential disputes.
Note: If you’ve claimed compensation but haven’t received it within a reasonable time frame, follow up with the airline. And if you’re really not happy, you could file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation via phone (202-366-2220) or online.
In 2022, JetBlue had the most flight delays, and Southwest had the most cancellations.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, you’re most likely to have a flight delayed at least three hours on JetBlue, but most likely to have your flight canceled on Southwest. Here’s the data from the calendar year 2022:
Percentage of Flights with Delays 3 Hours or More
- JetBlue: 2.32%
- Allegiant: 2.09%
- Frontier: 1.93%
- American: 1.51%
- United: 1.39%
- Spirit: 1.31%
- Delta: 1.09%
- Southwest: 0.76%
- Hawaiian: 0.77%
- Alaska: 0.66%
Percentage of Canceled Flights
- Southwest: 3.44%
- Allegiant: 2.63%
- Frontier: 2.36%
- JetBlue: 2.33%
- American: 2.28%
- Spirit: 2.18%
- United: 2.10%
- Delta: 1.78%
- Alaska: 1.6%
- Hawaiian: 0.77%
When should you think about rebooking — and how?
If the delay lingers on, however, you might decide to start looking for transportation alternatives, especially if you need to make it to your destination in time for an event. The first place to check is the airline’s app or their self-service kiosk to see if they offer rebooking opportunities. If that doesn’t pan out, you can walk over to the ticketing agent to see if they can help you.
Assuming you can get a refund on your original ticket, you might also just choose to book an alternate flight on your own, but that could end up costing you more out of pocket. Some airlines may cover this cost, but it’s certainly not a given.
What should you do if a flight delay causes a missed connection?
If you miss a connecting flight because your first flight had a delay, you should be entitled to compensation for that delayed flight. Immediately speak with a ticketing agent or get in touch with the airline directly to figure out your options.