I know we touched on this topic a bit last year in our post A Flying First as we described some of the pitfalls of air travel in the winter months. This weekend’s blizzard on the east coast of the U.S. led to the cancellation of thousands of flights and the complete closure of some airports, like Washington Dulles and Charlotte International, and makes a reminder about your rights as a passenger even more timely.
Most airlines do try to work with passengers when the major delay, cancellation, or airport closure happens. As inconvenienced travelers, we need to remember airline employees are human beings in a difficult situation. They’re not trying to screw you over. There is a limit to what they can do, either according to company policy or the laws of physics. Please don’t take your frustration out on them. That said, if you feel the airline isn’t giving you a fair deal you do have rights.
The federal government has instituted a Passenger Bill of Rights that covers what the airlines have to do if you are unfortunate enough to have a delayed or canceled flight. The first and most important thing you need to know is that on domestic itineraries, airlines are not required by law to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled (especially since many times the delay or cancellation isn’t the direct fault of the airline). You will find that most airlines do — it’s just good business. If your flight was supposed to take you to an international destination, you’re entitled to reimbursement by filing a claim with the airline. You even have legal recourse in small claims court if they refuse. If you are “bumped” from a flight that was oversold, which is the airline’s fault, you are required to be compensated.
The best time to fly and have a chance to get out on time is the early morning. You are less likely to encounter a ripple effect, a delay caused at another airport that gradually affects other airports.
One way to avoid frustration by events like this weekend’s blizzard is to pay attention to the news. You know the news loves to make a big deal about this kind of stuff and will hit the panic button early. You’ll see possible weather related delays and cancellations a head of time.
If you get stuck in future, remember you do have some rights. But also remember in many cases you’re at the mercy of the airline; being rude won’t help, being patient will.