If your flight is canceled or delayed, do you deserve a meal voucher or refund? It hasn’t always been easy to find out, but the Department of Transportation now spells it out for travelers with an interactive dashboard.
The tool, launched on the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection website in September, shows side-by-side what each airline offers travelers when flights are canceled or significantly delay for reasons within their control, like maintenance issues, staffing shortages, or delays in cleaning, fueling or baggage handling.
Airlines are not required to offer compensation for delays outside their control, like severe weather or air traffic control issues.
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What happens when a flight is canceled?
DOT rules already require airlines to offer customers a refund if their flights are canceled for any reason, but each airline’s policy can vary when guests choose to rebook and what else they might be entitled to beyond a refund in the event of certain kinds of cancellations.
For example, if American Airlines cancels a flight for “controllable” reasons, according to the dashboard, it’s committed to rebooking passengers on the same, or another airline at no additional cost; providing a meal or meal voucher when the cancellation results in a passenger waiting for three hours or more for a new flight; providing complimentary hotel accommodations for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation and providing complimentary ground transportation to and from a hotel for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation.
Can I get compensation for a delayed flight?
The answer depends on the circumstances and the airline.
JetBlue, for example, offers flight credit for departures delayed by at least three hours for reasons within their control, according to their existing Customer Bill of Rights, which predates the DOT dashboard. Compensation is also available for onboard ground delays of at least an hour upon arrival.
“We’ve always done what (Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg) was asking people to do,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told USA TODAY last summer. “We’ve provided hotel accommodation where we can for customers that are disrupted for controllable reasons. We’ve been providing, this summer, meal vouchers for delayed flights in airports … We booked customers on American Airlines and our partner airlines where that makes sense. So for us, it was really just codifying what we’ve been doing.”
Delta’s existing Customer Commitment policies dictate free meals or meal vouchers for passengers whose flights are delayed at least three hours. Travelers can either get complimentary hotel accommodations and ground transportation or reimbursements for those unexpected expenses if the next available flight isn’t until the next day.
“Delta representatives are empowered with the flexibility and discretion to issue the following forms of compensation for passenger inconvenience when individual circumstances warrant doing so: cash equivalents (e.g., gift cards), travel credits/vouchers, and/or miles for SkyMiles members,” according to the airline.
Other airlines have different time limits and accommodations for controllable delays.
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If my flight is delayed, am I entitled to compensation?
If the flight is delayed for reasons outside the airline’s control, the short answer is no.
“There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed,” the DOT states.
Each airline decides what it will offer customers for significant delays within its control.
“If your flight is experiencing a long delay, ask airline staff if they will pay for meals or a hotel room,” the Transportation Department suggests.
The DOT dashboard reflects airlines’ official policies, but many carriers handle compensation for delays on a case-by-case basis and may provide vouchers or other benefits in some situations that are not formally covered.
Contributing: Josh Rivera, USA TODAY; Associated Press