Jan 11, 2023 - Economy

What to do if your flight gets canceled or delayed

People check-in for their flight at JFK airport on January 11, 2023 in New York City.

People check-in for their flight at JFK airport on Jan. 11, in New York City. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Flights cancellations and delays have become rather common this winter, but suffering from flight troubles doesn't need to mean you'll get left out in the cold.

The big picture: Multiple airlines have a number of policies for refunds, reimbursements and rescheduling that can help people who find themselves waiting hours, if not days, for their flights.

Recent flight cancellations and delays

There have already been a number of flight cancellations and delays for American travelers.

  • On Wednesday, Jan. 11, thousands of flights were delayed and canceled after the FAA's Notice to Air Missions System — which sends notifications to pilots — crashed overnight and caused a major outage.
  • During the 2022 holiday season, Southwest Airlines customers experienced massive delays and cancellations due to extreme weather and technical glitches.
  • Major winter storms forced multiple other airlines to enact refund and waiver policies for travelers.

What to do if your flight gets canceled or delayed

There are plenty of steps to take when your flight gets bumped a few hours or overnight.

Check your flight status: Scott Keyes, the founder of Going, formerly known as Scott’s Cheap Flights, told CNN that keeping up to date on your flight status through text alerts can help you avoid getting stuck at an airport.

Check your airline's policies: Nothing is more helpful than checking with your airline about the next steps. You can check online or scan the airline's app to find out what to do at the airport.

Contact your airline: Nick Ewen, director of content at The Points Guy, told U.S. News that travelers should contact airlines to seek help with cancellations and delays.

Speak with customer representatives: The Department of Transportation (DOT) said travelers should speak with customer representatives who can help "arrange meals and hotel rooms for stranded passengers," as well as help with baggage claim issues, settle complaints and write checks if you're bumped off of your flight.

Flight refunds: What to do

What to know: Per the DOT, consumers are entitled to refunds if an airline cancels a flight, regardless of the reason for it, as long as the consumer decides not to travel.

  • Consumers are entitled to refunds for "significant delays," too, according to the DOT. However, DOT has not clearly defined what a "significant delay" means. Refunds are made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Travelers can also purchase fully refundable tickets can obtain a refund if they do not use the ticket to travel.

How it works: Travelers should contact their airline or a ticketing agent if they feel they are entitled to a refund, the DOT said.

How to get reimbursement for food, hotel

Details: The DOT's Airline Customer Service Dashboard explains what travelers are entitled to based on their delay or cancelations, and that includes hotel and transportation needs.

  • In some cases, such as a disruption leading to wait times of three or more hours, travelers may be entitled to a meal voucher or meal cash, according to the DOT.
  • If you're bumped to a flight on a separate date, many airlines will offer hotel accommodations.
  • Airlines have committed to offering these vouchers and reimbursements. Speak with a ticketing agent or representative if you feel you're entitled to such benefits.

How to file a DOT complaint

Zoom in: The DOT has a website for travelers to file complaints if problems can't be resolved at airports.

  • The department said it will acknowledge complaints within 30 days of receiving them and a response will come within 60 days.

Travel insurance

You can book travel insurance ahead of time to avoid issues. Some credit cards offer free travel insurance as a benefit.

Yes, but: Bankrate.com analyst Ted Rossman told Axios there are a lot of nuances with travel insurance.

  • “Like for example, credit cards that offer travel insurance can be very valuable," Rossman said. "It tends to be more if there's bad weather or if you get sick or something. Interestingly, the Southwest operational meltdown, I don't think would have qualified on most cards. It depends.”
  • Sara Rathner, a travel and credit cards expert at NerdWallet, told Axios that "insurance can’t prevent things from happening that interrupt your travel, but it can certainly help make you a little more whole if things don’t go as planned.”

More from Axios:

Southwest's meltdown could end up being good for travelers

Airlines' next struggle? Where to plug in their planes

These are the best — and worst — airlines

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