Few things are as infuriating as a delayed flight, and cancelled flights can be downright enraging, especially around the holidays. If your flight has been cancelled, you may be looking to take out that rage on the airline, in court.
Unfortunately, airlines don’t guarantee their schedules and the fine print on your ticket (or email confirmation) usually means you can’t sue for a cancelled flight. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be compensated, and you may have some legal rights if your flight was cancelled.
Unforeseen events like bad weather and mechanical issues mean that no airline can promise perfect, on-time departures and arrivals. (Not only that, but most airlines expressly, if in small print, reserve the right to delay or cancel flights altogether as they deem necessary.) But carriers would rather get you where you want to go than have a bunch of angry customers, especially with the Internet so close at hand.
So almost all airlines have cancellation policies designed to either get passengers to their destinations as close to on-time as possible or compensate them in some way for their inconvenience.
Each carrier’s policies may vary, but generally if your flight is cancelled an airline will:
- Rebook you on the earliest possible flight to your destination;
- Endorse your ticket to another airline that can get you there; and/or
- Provide food or lodging accommodations during your delay.
None of these reimbursements are required by law, however, and many discount airlines don’t offer the same options as full-service airlines.
But just because you can’t normally sue an airline if your flight was cancelled, doesn’t mean you don’t have any rights at all. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation enacted an airline passenger “Bill of Rights” — a list of consumer protections regarding lost luggage, long delays, hidden fees, and getting bumped from your flight.
If you are involuntarily “bumped” from an oversold flight, you are entitled to double your ticket price (up to $650), even if the airline can still get you to your destination within 1-2 hours of your original scheduled arrival time. Longer delays can entitle you to four times your ticket value (up to $1,300). Airlines are also prohibited from delaying flights on the tarmac for longer than 4 hours, and must provide access to food, water, and lavatories in the event of extended tarmac delays.
You can find out more about airline regulations and your rights as a passenger in FindLaw’s Airline Rules section.