‘I ended up spending over $1,700 to fly’: What you’re owed for a delayed, canceled flight

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Travelers are still having difficulty getting to their destinations after a long weekend of severe winter weather that continued into Tuesday. More than 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled as of 6:30 p.m. EST Tuesday, and more than 7,800 others were delayed, according to FlightAwarewhich tracks air traffic in real time.

“It kind of sucks,” said Keith Patton, 31, who has dealt with days of unrest.

First, his American Airlines flight from Omaha, Nebraska, to Phoenix was delayed for five hours on Friday. “We ended up with 11 inches of snow (in Omaha), so I wasn’t surprised there was a problem with my flight,” he said, noting that a snowblower malfunction exacerbated the delay.

Then his flight home was canceled on Sunday. He said he texted an airline agent to try to find another route home on American Airlines, but saw no viable options, before canceling and booking a direct flight with Southwest Airlines for Monday.

That flight was also cancelled.

“There’s no delay, nothing like that, it’s just cancelled,” the Omaha resident said. “I checked the Southwest app, and there was absolutely nothing else on Monday, and there was nothing until Tuesday either.”

However, he found an $800 flight on Delta.

“But when I was actually trying to book, the website was down and terrible, and by the time I was able to hit the confirm button, it was gone,” he said. “But they only had one seat available in first class, so I ended up spending over $1,700 to fly first class on Delta. And that was the only possible way I could get home yesterday.”

Patton knows that most people don’t have that option because airlines aren’t required to rebook customers on other airlines, although some may do so if the cancellation is within their control.

“Something like this could completely burn through someone’s emergency savings,” he said.

Here’s what travelers should expect when their flights are canceled or delayed.

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What happens if my flight is cancelled?

Ministry of Transport rules All airlines are required to offer customers refunds if their flights are canceled for any reason, but customers may be entitled to additional compensation if the cancellation is within the airline’s control. Weather is out of the airline’s control.

According to the DOT Consumer DashboardIf Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue or United cancel a flight for controllable reasons, they are obligated to:

  • Rebook passengers on the same airline or a partner airline, at no additional cost

  • Providing a meal, cash or meal voucher when a cancellation would result in the passenger waiting at least 3 hours for a new flight

  • Providing free hotel accommodation for any passenger affected by the cancellation of a one-night reservation

  • Providing free ground transportation to and from the hotel for any traveler affected by the overnight cancellation

Alaska and JetBlue passengers are also eligible for additional compensation.

Allegiant, Frontier, Southwest and Spirit do not book passengers on partner airlines. In addition, Frontier does not provide hotel accommodations and related transportation.

What happens if the flight is delayed?

According to the Department of Transportation: “There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed.”

However, US carriers have committed to varying levels of compensation for significant delays within their control. However, each airline defines significant delays differently.

If a flight is significantly delayed for reasons within their control, Alaska, American, Delta, Jet Blue, and United offer:

  • Rebook passengers on the same airline or a partner airline, at no additional cost

  • Providing a meal, cash or meal voucher when a delay results in the passenger waiting at least 3 hours for departure

  • Providing free hotel accommodation for any passengers affected by the overnight delay

  • Providing free ground transportation to and from the hotel for any passengers affected by overnight delays

Alaska and JetBlue also offer additional compensation when a flight is delayed by 3 hours or more.

Allegiant, Frontier, Hawaiian, Southwest and Spirit do not rebook passengers on partner airlines. Frontier does not provide hotel accommodations or related transportation either.

USA TODAY breaks it down by airline: If your flight is delayed, you may be eligible for compensation from your airline

What should I do if my flight is delayed?

If your flight has a long delay, the Department of Transportation suggests asking airline employees whether they will pay for meals or a hotel room.

The DOT dashboard reflects the airlines’ official policies, but many carriers handle delay compensation on a case-by-case basis and may offer coupons or other benefits in some situations that are not officially covered.

For example, according to Delta Customer Commitment“Delta representatives have the flexibility and discretion to issue the following forms of compensation for passenger inconvenience when individual circumstances require doing so: cash equivalents (e.g., gift cards), travel credits/vouchers, and/or miles for SkyMiles members.”

Travel insurance can also help with cancellations and delays. Some credit card companies will also reimburse cardholders for expenses related to travel disruptions, when travel is booked on their cards.

Contributing: Zach Wechter, USA TODAY; News agency

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A flight information screen shows canceled flights at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, on January 14, 2024.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Flight delayed or canceled due to winter weather? What is (not) due to you

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