Update: For Canadians, the federal government has announced new rules on airline passenger protection, compensation. July 15 and December 15, 2019, will see the adoption of new rights for travelers. On July 15, these new regulations cover compensation for delays on the tarmac, passengers denied boarding, lost and damaged luggage and overbooking. On Dec 15, additional compensation guidelines will be introduced including canceled and delayed flights and the requirement that children under 5 be seated next to a parent or guardian.

For frequent flyers, it’s not unusual to experience flight delays or cancellations AND the frustrations that come with them. For instance, you have a tight turnaround time for a connecting flight through Dallas, but your originating flight is significantly delayed or canceled. What are the most successful steps to follow to get rescheduled onto another flight quickly or to receive a refund?

Here’s what you need to know about delayed or canceled flights.

  • First, queue in line at the ticket counter right away.
  • While you’re waiting in the ticket line, also phone the airline. You may just get through by phone before you get to the front of the line.
  • You’ll be offered another flight option if your flight is canceled.
  • Passengers who experience major delays or cancellations are eligible for compensation. Just ask for the forms and file your paperwork to receive your refund. Many travelers don’t. According to Kayak UK, “Less than 1% of eligible air passengers receive compensation that is rightfully theirs because they are unaware of their rights under the law.”
  • You are still entitled to a refund even though you are offered another flight. Even if your original flight was on a non-refundable fare.
    • This year, Kayak started informing passengers who book through their site that the flight disruption they experienced may be eligible for claim reimbursement. In the U.S., Kayak suggests contacting a 3rd party company, Service, for refunds. In Europe, they point passengers to AirHelp. Kayak’s UK site says, “Even if you weren’t aware of your rights until now, there’s still a chance you could see some cash back. You can check to see if you can be reimbursed for disrupted flights that were booked up to three years ago. Search for your past flights and AirHelp will scan your inbox to see if any of your past delays or cancellations are eligible.” This Skift article explains more about the new Kayak service.
  • If you absolutely have to get to where you’re going, be flexible about which city you’ll fly to.

For instance, one Friday night years ago I was flying home to Ontario, Canada. I had a connector in Chicago and a snowstorm there was raging full force. Lots of flights, including mine, were canceled. Snow removal at O’Hare looked just like the runway scene from the classic movie, “Airport”. The storm was moving east into Ontario and if I didn’t get out of Chicago on a flight that night, I’d be stuck in Chicago likely all weekend.

I got to the ticket desk and said, ‘I don’t care which flight you get me on: I’m happy with a flight to either Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto.” Any of those cities were a 2-hour drive to my hometown. They got me on a flight to Ottawa (miraculously, the flight was able to take off) and I made it home at 5:30 am Saturday morning. That raging snowstorm hit my town at 6:30 am…and by then I was blissfully asleep in my own bed. Thank goodness, I had mentioned that I was flexible with my final destination.

What if YOU want to cancel or change your non-refundable flight?

On the other side, if you’re the one who wants to cancel your flight with little or no penalty, consider these:

  • Both Southwest Air and Alaska Air have lenient refund policies when compared to other carriers. Southwest’s non-refundable ticket policy reads, “Not all reservations are refundable, but they are all reusable as long as you cancel your reservation at least 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure of the flight.”
  • Generally, tickets booked with frequent flyer points have lower change or cancellation fees. And sometimes they have no change fees.

Next time you experience delayed or canceled flights, remember to ask for the reimbursement or credit that you are entitled to.

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