5 On Your Side

Ask for cash (and other tips when your flight doesn't go as planned)

Posted April 10
Updated April 11

Few things kill a vacation vibe quicker than being stuck in the airport because of a delayed or canceled flight.

For those who fly, it's a matter of when, not if, they will need to know their rights and ask for compensation for a flight that is delayed, overbooked or canceled.

Unfortunately, Consumer Reports say travelers have very few rights when things go wrong.

"Being informed will help you get the compensation you're due, if you stand up for yourself," said Consumer Reports' Lauren Lyons Cole.

Each airline handles cancelations differently. For example, Delta will either put you on its next available flight or rebook you on another carrier. Southwest only re-books passengers on the next available Southwest flight, so check specifics for the airline you're traveling.

Those who get bumped, however, do have recourse.

"Overbooking isn't illegal, but if you're bumped involuntarily, in most cases the airline has to rebook you in a timely manner or pay you," Lyons Cole said.

They might even have to do both. On domestic flights, if the airline rebooks you to land 1 to 2 hours later than your original arrival time, it has to cover your ticket and pay you double your one-way airfare – up to $675!

If the delay is more than 2 hours or the airline doesn't make any alternative arrangements, you are due four times your one-way airfare, up to $1,350!

When it comes to getting bumped, not all passengers are created equal and there are things passengers can to to minimize the likelihood of it happening.

"One is to check-in ahead of time- you can do it electronically. Another is to secure your seat assignment prior to the day you're flying. But, you have to remember, you can be bumped. Legally, airlines do have the right to do it and unfortunately it is allowed," said Bill McGee with Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports recommends that travelers always ask for cash instead of a travel voucher.

Another tip is to book flights with a credit card that offers good insurance for air travel snafus. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers trip coverage up to $10,000 for certain cancelations, like if a traveler gets sick, and $500 for delays.

Consumer Reports is pushing for an enhanced passenger bill of rights, which would give fliers in the U.S. more protections when flights are overbooked.

2 Comments

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  • Ian Jones Apr 11, 2017
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    View quoted thread


    The double and 4X the one-way fare is only if you are involuntarily bumped (involuntarily denied boarding). The legal citation is here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/250.5

    If you are owed compensation, you can demand cash rather than a travel voucher.

  • Andrew Stephenson Apr 11, 2017
    user avatar

    This feels like it's missing a lot of information, like a citation to the sources. Rebooking me to arrive 2 hours later gets me double my one-way airfare refunded? That sounds like a fantasy, especially if you are rebooked to to weather-related issues.