There’s nothing more dreadful than being at the airport and seeing the red capitalized letters that announce FLIGHT CANCELLED right next to your scheduled flight.
The recent Southwest Airlines meltdown, which comes on the heels of several others at various airlines, shows us how important it is to prepare for this kind of travel complication.
Flyers are left to fend for themselves when an airline blames the weather, air traffic control, or other factors beyond their control to avoid providing accommodations to delayed travelers. It may not be fair, but US airlines aren’t required to help out their passengers who are stranded at an airport, even if the travelers have to wait more than a day for the next flight out.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything being done about these unfair policies. Travelers United, a nonprofit organization that advocates for airline passengers, is pushing Congress and the US Department of Transportation to adopt traveler protections.
The group is lobbying for coverage similar to what European airlines offer their passengers, such as hotel accommodations and financial compensation for significant disruptions or delays.
The president and co-founder of Travelers United, Charlie Leocha, points out that “there are no real rules that will allow passengers to get any kind of compensation or even overnight accommodations if they’re really late.”
And he’s absolutely right—the Department of Transportation’s website states that “airlines are not required to provide passengers with money or other compensation for costs that fall outside of the canceled airline ticket and fees tied directly to the airline ticket.”
The website also states that each airline has its own policies, and it can’t hurt passengers to ask, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes they can get a “distressed passenger” hotel rate from a hotel the airline partners with for 30-50% off the regular booking price.
If your flight is canceled by the airline, and you decide you don’t want to switch to another flight, the airline is required to give you a full refund, even if you purchased a non-refundable ticket.
But if you give up the flight, the airline isn’t required to compensate you for any non-refundable aspects of the trip you missed, like hotel rooms, event tickets, cruise passes, etc.
As far as Southwest goes, the company blamed its recent disruptions on a combination of limited staffing in Florida, air traffic control problems, and bad weather.
Southwest offers a laundry list of reasons in their contract of carriage why a flight may be canceled by the airline. These reasons include acts of God, weather, riots, wars, labor disputes, strikes, work stoppages, air traffic control, and “the inability to obtain fuel, airport gates, labor, or landing facilities for the flight in question.”
When pressed by CNN Travel about additional compensation for passengers, Southwest simply stated that they were doing their best to get passengers re-booked and were offering “added flexibility to explore self-service re-booking options.”
Unfortunately, added flexibility doesn’t always cut it, and we believe it would be good Jetiquette for airlines to help out the passengers they’ve stranded. Hopefully, Travelers United will be able to sway legislators into giving travelers assistance when necessary.
In the meantime, here are some tips to help you proactively prepare for your trip, so you aren’t at the mercy of the airline’s goodwill if your journey gets disrupted.
Use A Credit Card That Offers Travel Insurance
Multiple credit cards offer a degree of travel insurance as long as you use your card to book flights, rental cars, hotels, and other travel expenses. With travel insurance guaranteed through your credit card provider, you don’t have to worry about paying extra for travel insurance when you purchase something for the trip.
Types of travel insurance that a credit card company may offer include:
Trip Delay: compensation to help cover meals, hotels, transportation, and necessary purchases when travel on a common carrier is delayed
Trip Cancellation: Reimbursement for canceled non-refundable trips (for covered reasons)
Trip Interruption: Reimbursement for unused, prepaid, and non-refundable reservations if you’re forced to miss part of your trip (for covered reasons)
Baggage Delay: Compensation for costs associated with purchasing items if you arrive somewhere before your luggage does
Lost/Damaged Baggage: Reimbursement for lost, damaged, or stolen items while your luggage was in the carrier’s possession
Medical Treatment: Coverage for medical expenses up to a certain amount if you are injured while traveling
Medical Evacuation: Coverage for early travel home from a trip in case of illness or injury
Travel Accident Insurance: Coverage for accidental death or dismemberment during travel
Rental Car Insurance: Protection for your rental car against theft, accident, or damage (in addition to your personal auto insurance)
Some of the best cards that provide travel insurance (with some benefit highlights) are:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Trip protection up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip
Chase Sapphire Preferred: Trip protection up to $5,000 per person and $10,000 per trip
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card: Rental car insurance up to $75,000
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless: Trip delay up to $500 per ticket for delays more than 12 hours
Southwest Rapid Rewards: Baggage delay coverage up to $100 per day for three days
United Explorer: Trip protection up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card: Medical treatment/evacuation up to $3,500,000
The Platinum Card from American Express: Trip protection up to $10,000 per trip
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Trip protection up to $10,000 per trip
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Travel accident coverage up to $25,000
Depending on the card you use and the duration and details of the trip, you may still want to purchase extra trip insurance. Whether you want to get a standalone travel insurance policy, like American Express’ AmEx Assurance, or you opt to pay a bit extra when you book a flight or rental car, full trip insurance can protect you from any bumps in the road.
Leave at Least a Day Early if You Have Somewhere to Be
If you’re flying out of town for a wedding, concert, cruise, or anything in between, the best thing you can do is give yourself some wiggle room before you have to be somewhere.
While it may cost a bit extra to stay overnight an extra day, having a full 24-hour cushion in case of a delay can be the difference between you attending an event or being left behind.
Many flight delays and cancellations are caused by bad weather, and if you plan to arrive mere hours before you have to be somewhere, a couple-hour delay can ruin your weekend. If an important experience is on the line, it’s best to be safe rather than sorry.
Limit Bookings with Restrictive Cancellation Policies
It’s not always possible given the activities you want to participate in, but do your best only to make reservations with places or events with a flexible cancellation policy.
Limiting your non-refundable deposits and prepaid expenses can make a massive difference if your flight gets canceled. Unless you know something is booked far in advance, it’s best to hold off until you can guarantee you’ll be able to go.
There are also many hotels with a flexible cancelation policy, so avoid bookings that only provide a refund for cancellations made over 24 hours in advance when possible.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, more hotels and experiences offer refunds for cancellations. Before you book anything, check the return and cancellation policy.
Don’t Be Rude to the Airline Representatives
We know it’s frustrating. But you know who didn’t cause your travel plan’s disruption? The airline representative you’re speaking to about your options. They’re probably overwhelmed at the prospect of helping a horde of angry travelers.
Although it’s probably easier to take your anger out on the representative, it’s not fair to them, and it’s definitely not good Jetiquette. Additionally, it won’t get you anywhere.
If you’re kind and understanding to the person you’re speaking to (because, yes, they are still a person), they’ll be more inclined to help you out. They’ll still be limited by company policies, but they’ll be more willing to see what’s possible if you aren’t screaming at them.
Not to mention that truly terrible behavior can get you placed on a no-fly list, which ruins all hope of catching the next flight out.
It’s a good rule of thumb to be polite to all airline and airport staff. A little Jetiquette goes a long way, and hopefully, it will spread to your fellow passengers so we can all work together for friendlier skies.