Over the Holiday Weekend of July 4, Canceled and Delayed Flights are Likely. What Rights You Should be Aware of

Over the Holiday Weekend of July 4, Canceled and Delayed Flights are Likely. What Rights You Should be Aware of

Thousands of passengers may experience airline delays and cancellations over a busy holiday weekend, so experts advise customers to be aware of their financial options in advance in case their travel plans are disrupted.

“It’s good for people to know they have rights,” said Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “That way they’re empowered to stand up for themselves.”

Why are flight interruptions expected?

The Transportation Security Administration projects that more than 2.8 million passengers would go through airport security checkpoints on Friday, setting a new record for a single day.

The TSA is prepared for “sustained higher passenger volumes” throughout the summer, with June 29 through July 5 being the busiest period.

This comes as severe storms and staffing shortages have already derailed thousands of flights this week. Storms are forecast across swaths of the U.S. heading into the weekend.

A technology issue may also snarl air travel this weekend. Starting Saturday, wireless carriers will be allowed to boost their 5G signal power, and planes that aren’t retrofitted with certain equipment to prevent interference from such transmissions won’t be allowed to land when visibility is poor, as during bad weather, said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“It’s a whole mix of factors,” said Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “We do expect to see a lot of delays, unfortunately.”

What is your recourse for a delayed or canceled flight?

Travelers affected by a flight disruption may have some recourse. But the rules differ depending on the situation and airline.

Federal law doesn’t require airlines to pay compensation to passengers for delays, Palmer said.

Passengers are legally entitled to a full refund of their travel expenses, including the cost of their tickets, taxes, baggage fees, and other ancillary fees, if an airline cancels a trip for any reason. Travelers must receive their refund if they used a credit card within seven business days and if they used cash or a check within twenty days.

“You don’t have to accept a rebooking, voucher or anything,” Murray said. “They have to give you a refund if that’s what you want.”

Naturally, that policy doesn’t always assist in covering additional expenses incurred, such meals and hotel, or in aiding tourists who would rather continue to their destination than take a refund.

Here, airlines have some discretion over how much compensation to give out, especially if a delay or cancellation is their fault and not the result of an external factor, like bad weather.

“There’s no reason not to ask,” Palmer said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard outlines passenger rights for specific airlines. The list outlines commitments made by the 10 largest carriers in the event of “controllable” cancellations and delays.

“These aren’t suggestions,” Murray said of the commitments. “It’s binding.”

For example: All major carriers will rebook passengers on the same airline at no additional cost for “significant” delays and will cover meals if there’s a delay of three hours or more. Some will rebook on a partner airline at no additional cost.

All major airlines except for Frontier will cover a hotel stay and transportation to the hotel in the event of an overnight cancellation. Six of 10 will rebook on another airline at no extra cost. Just two airlines offer credits or travel vouchers if a cancellation causes a wait of at least three hours.

Even if a delay isn’t their fault, many airlines will transfer your ticket to another airline’s flight with available seats at no additional cost if you ask, according to the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Of course, none of these options help travelers who, in the face of a flight disruption, opt for another mode of transit, such as a rental car, Palmer said.

“I think this is a really common situation for people” that could come with “a lot of extra costs,” she said.

How to reduce the odds of flight woes

Here are some general travel tips from experts to reduce the odds that a delayed or cancelled flight will affect you.

  • Fly early in the day. This is generally when airlines experience the fewest disruptions; if there is one, passengers would likely have ample flight alternatives during the remainder of the day, depending on the route and carrier.
  • Try to avoid a connecting flight. Taking two flights instead of one doubles your odds of a disruption. 
  • Choose an airline with multiple flights per day to your location, if possible. If a disruption occurs, there are more chances to get on another flight. 
  • Check if your credit card offers a payout for flight delays and cancellations. If it does, and you purchased your travel with that card, you may be entitled to certain benefits.