Pilot strikes, labor shortages and high travel demand have all contributed to a summer of chaos for the flight industry. On average, one out of five flights have experienced delays and over 116,000 flights have been canceled so far in 2022, according to FlightAware data. As airlines continue to try to accommodate stranded passengers, the Better Business Bureau provides guidance to travelers who may be seeking compensation and refunds for cancellations.
When are consumers entitled to a refund after a flight delay or cancellation?
When a consumer is flying domestically in the United States, rules regarding flight delays and cancellations are overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). In general, there are no U.S. federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with compensation for a delayed flight. Airlines may have their own policies and may provide better benefits if a flight was canceled or significantly delayed within the airline’s scope of control.
However, when flights are canceled by the airline, consumers are always entitled to a full refund according to USDOT. This includes a refund of any bag fees or extras, such as additional legroom for a seat. If the airline offers a voucher in lieu of a refund, ask about expiration and blackout dates. Airlines may also have additional restrictions on the use of vouchers. Consumers are not obligated to accept vouchers and may insist on a full refund instead.
Typically, nearly all domestic airlines will try to accommodate passengers on the next available flight, and sometimes (but rarely) on a different carrier.
Essentially, consumers’ experiences will vary depending on the airline they choose. Some airlines have stronger reputations than others for their amenities and coverages. Consumers can look up companies such as on BBB.org for ratings, consumer alerts, complaint trends and examples of how the business responds to their customers.
Plan for Potential Delays and Look Up the Route’s Performance History
Unfortunately, there are many variables that can affect scheduling that is outside of the airline’s control, therefore consumers must keep this in mind while planning their trip.
Once you have a specific flight(s) in mind, you can look up its performance and check the likelihood of a delay occurring. According to USDOT’s website, “On-time performance percentages for individual flights of the larger U.S. airlines are available by phone from those airlines upon request. These airlines are also required to post this information on their websites, with special notice for flights that experienced serious delays or cancellations.”
Check Carrier and Credit Card Terms
While federal regulations don’t require airlines to reimburse expenses such as rooms or food in the event a flight is canceled or severely delayed, the carrier and credit card companies may have different policies. Purchase tickets with a credit card that offers trip protection or travelers insurance and check individual airline policies.
Keep receipts and records for expenses incurred as a result of a significantly delayed or canceled flight. Consumers should keep receipts for extra purchases, like a hotel room, so they can submit them to their airline or credit card company for reimbursement later.
Check the Carrier’s Website
Most airlines allow consumers to initiate refunds directly on the carrier’s website. Using a website may help a consumer obtain a refund or rebook a trip much faster than waiting for a consumer service agent in person or on the phone.
Rules are Different for Foreign Flights
Flights that were canceled while in another country will be affected by the laws of that nation. Check with the local country’s department of transportation while traveling internationally.
— The Better Business Bureau Great West & Pacific offers advice and other resources to businesses and consumers.