What to Do If Your Flight is Canceled

Has your flight been canceled or delayed? You’re not alone. In fact, you’re among tens of thousands of people affected by this summer’s mass flight cancellations — an epidemic amid a global pandemic.

Why are flights being canceled right now?

The airline industry remains unprepared for current travel demand, which has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. A shortage of pilots (and overall airline staff) has forced airlines to eliminate or combine routes — in many cases for flights that have already been booked. In total, the Air Line Pilots Association estimates a shortage of 12,000 pilots in 2022.

On top of pilots retiring faster than they can be replaced, airlines are reckoning with the employee layoffs implemented at the height of the pandemic: Staffing issues pose a particular challenge for the airline industry now as many former pilots and attendants have chosen new occupations. There’s also little incentive for trained or aspiring pilots, since pay and benefits are not as appealing as they once were.

What to do if your flight is canceled

Talk to an agent: First, get in line to speak with an agent. You might also want to call the airline while you wait. Typically, if your flight is canceled, the majority of airlines will rebook you on the next flight available to your destination at no additional cost. However, depending on why your flight was canceled, finding seats on a new flight may prove difficult and may alter your travel plans considerably.

Ask for a refund: If you choose to cancel your trip because of a flight cancellation or “significant delay” (determined on a case-by-case basis), the Department of Transportation requires airlines to provide a full refund to passengers. Do not accept a voucher if you are offered one (unless you’re willing to do some negotiating). Vouchers often come with limitations such as black-out dates — and, again, you are entitled to a cash refund per federal law. Note that the refund covers the total cost of airfare only and does not include other expenses associated with your trip.

Review your airline’s cancellation policy: Depending on your airline, flight cancellation policies may vary. Use the links below to find more information on the cancellation policies and passenger rights for each of the major U.S.-based airlines, as well as how to apply for a refund.

Alaska Airlines Flight Cancellations

Allegiant Air Flight Cancellations

American Airlines Flight Cancellations

Delta Air Lines Flight Cancellations

Frontier Airlines Flight Cancellations

Hawaiian Airlines Flight Cancellations

JetBlue Flight Cancellations

Southwest Airlines Flight Cancellations

Spirit Airlines Flight Cancellations

Sun Country Airlines Flight Cancellations

United Airlines Flight Cancellations

If your airline denies you a refund, you should file a complaint with the DOT.

What to do if your flight is delayed

In the event your flight is delayed, airlines are not legally obligated to give you a refund unless the DOT determines the delay to be “significant.” But here’s what you can do:

Research other flights: Investigate what other flights on that airline are headed to your destination, and ask an agent if they can get you on one of them (without charging change fees). Also be sure to look into what’s available on other airlines: If your original airline doesn’t have any flights available on your departure date, an agent may be able to book you on a flight with a different carrier at no additional cost to you. Note, however, that airlines are not legally required to do this.

Inquire about other compensation: If you’ve been stranded at the airport for several hours, check in with an agent — regardless of whether you’re able to get on another flight. Some airlines may provide amenities such as vouchers for meals or overnight accommodations.

How to avoid flight cancellations and delays in the future

It’s almost impossible to avoid canceled or delayed flights these days. But there are a few things you can do when booking flights to lessen your chances for travel disruptions.

Consider an alternate airport

You may consider flying out of a different airport than the one you typically depart from. For example, a small regional airport with limited routes may mean less travel delays and hassle overall — or it may be worth driving further to another international airport for a nonstop flight to your destination rather than opting for a connecting flight close to home.

Fly in the morning

While flight disruptions are unpredictable, historically fewer cancellations and delays occur in the morning.

Avoid weekend travel

Fly on off-peak days like Tuesday or Wednesday. You’ll often find cheaper flights on these days, too.

Opt for longer layovers

If you need to take more than one flight to reach your destination, book a flight with a longer layover to provide enough time to make your connecting flight. Keep in mind that at some airports you may need go through security or customs for your connection. For longer journeys, you can reduce the risk of missing connecting flights by planning a city stopover. For example, Icelandair offers Iceland stopovers for no additional airfare.

Consider a credit card with travel perks

Premium credit cards often provide complimentary travel perks, such as access to an airport lounge with food, drinks and Wi-Fi for staying productive and/or keeping antsy kids happy. Some credit cards also offer a concierge service to rebook flights or built-in trip insurance to cover unforeseen expenses.

For example, the Platinum Card from American Express offers travel insurance that reimburses some nonrefundable expenses like hotel accommodations, meals and other essentials as long as the trip was purchased using that card. The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card has similar protections. Always check the credit card contract’s fine print for details on the card’s coverage terms and conditions.

Purchase travel insurance for flights

If your credit card doesn’t include travel protections, consider purchasing travel insurance — even a cheap travel policy can help protect your investment. Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications for Allianz Global Assistance, says that, depending on the length of your delay and your coverage, “[travel insurance] may reimburse you for lost prepaid expenses, as well as costs you incur because of the delay, including meals, accommodations, communication and transportation.” Covered reasons include a travel carrier delay and loss or theft of travel documents, among other scenarios. Coverage varies when it comes to delays and cancellations associated with COVID-19, so it’s important to check with your provider. If you’re interested in purchasing a policy, you can browse the best travel insurance companies here.

Talk to a travel adviser

“In the event of a flight delay or cancellation, travel advisors have a number of tools to assist,” says Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations at Travel Leaders Group, one of the largest travel agency companies. “If we anticipate flight delays due to weather, for example, travel advisors receive advance waivers so they can select alternative flights before they sell out.”

If you didn’t purchase flights through a travel adviser, you can pay for Cranky Concierge’s Urgent Assistance plan, which charges a fee per one-way flight to help travelers find a solution to flight changes (either delays, cancellations or missed connections) and proactively monitor future trips.

Sign up for flight notifications

Late flight departures can have ripple effects on connecting flights or cruise ship embarkations, so sign up for airline alerts when you purchase a ticket. The DOT requires that airlines inform passengers of schedule changes on their websites and telephone reservation systems within seven days of departure. For the latest flight details and delays, visit your airline’s website.

On your departure date, check your flight status before heading to the airport. You can check for flight cancellations and delays online using the airline’s app or a third-party app like FlightAware Flight Tracker (which also offers a website) or TripIt Pro. The latter option stores your travel itinerary for added convenience. Delays of 30 minutes or longer will show on the airport’s flight status displays, but these apps often send real-time alerts sooner and help keep you informed wherever you are at the airport. When coping with a flight disruption, timing is everything.

Avoid checking luggage

Travelers who only travel with a carry-on bag and/or personal item (such as a backpack or purse) that meet carry-on size restrictions will have the most flexibility in rebooking — and will also avoid the chance of lost luggage, an increasing problem for travel in 2022. Some carriers will try to move checked luggage to a later flight for you and will make every effort to keep you and your belongings together. However, when airlines don’t have interline agreements with other carriers, you’ll have to allow enough time to retrieve and recheck your own luggage.

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What to Do If Your Flight is Canceled originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 07/27/22: This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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