Traveling during the winter is always a little risky. Blizzards and winter storms can cause delays, snarl traffic and create headaches at the airport. (To be fair, summer thunderstorms can do the same.) Meanwhile, security lines are longer than ever and airports just keep adding flights, making delays and cancellations even more likely.
Dealing with delayed or canceled flights is never fun, but it doesn’t have to be a total loss. Some airlines are trying to minimize the harm (and keep from losing more customers) with compensation policies for passengers. Here’s a look at how to go about asking for that compensation, and which airlines are your best bets.
When You Don’t Have A Claim
Sometimes you’re just not entitled to compensation, no matter how hard you cry at the counter. These circumstances include:
- Weather. Weather happens, and nobody can control it. No one likes a storm delay, but airlines don’t owe you money because it’s unsafe to take off in a hurricane.
- Air traffic control decisions. They’re responsible for making sure we all get to our destinations safely. If they decide the runways are too busy for your flight to take off on time, it’s not the airline’s fault.
- External equipment problems. Broken baggage claim belts? Power out at the airport? Airport equipment and mechanical failures are annoying, but again, they’re out of the airline’s control.
- Your schedule. If you get stuck in traffic and miss your flight, your airline doesn’t owe you anything. This is true even if your flight time changed and then changed back. You should still arrive at the airport at the original time, just in case.
When You Do Have A Claim
Airlines don’t always make it easy, but there are times when you do deserve some compensation. This can take the form of vouchers, points, a refund, accommodations or some combination of these options.
All airlines in the U.S. have to follow some basic rules about delays and cancellations. These include rebooking passengers from canceled flights and paying for accommodations if you’re bumped off a flight for certain reasons.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a general airline passenger bill of rights. It outlines some circumstances that merit compensation, including lost or delayed luggage and tarmac delays of more than three hours. Other times when you might have a claim:
- Broken seats or environmental equipment. You shouldn’t have to sit through a six-hour flight without functioning A/C.
- Delays and cancellations due to the airline. This doesn’t include weather or airport issues. However, it does cover maintenance problems, crew changes and equipment changes or overbooking that bumps you off your flight.
- Poor service. This is tough to prove, although cases like the recent one of the black female doctor on a Delta flight are a pretty clear example of when this would apply.
Tips For Getting Compensated
- Speak to someone with the airline before leaving the airport where the problem occurred, or where you were notified of it. Don’t let anyone tell you to “talk to so-and-so when you land.” According to The Points Guy, “Staying at the source of the problem will usually result in much quicker action than landing somewhere four hours away and talking to people who had nothing to do with what happened.”
- Keep all documentation. The more evidence you have, the stronger your case is.
- If you can’t talk to someone at the airport right away, contact the airline’s social media team. Responding to customer issues is their job, and sometimes they’re able to help faster than anyone else. Twitter is usually a good place to start. If you’re not social media-savvy, most airlines have standard complaint forms you can fill out and submit through their websites.
- Be nice! This should be obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re tired, stressed or upset about lost luggage. Remember: Whatever happened, it’s not that person’s fault. Don’t give them any good reasons not to help you.
Best Airlines For Compensation
Beyond these basic rules, compensation depends on the individual airline and its “contract of carriage.” Most airlines follow similar rules, but some are more generous—or easier to talk to—than others. Tourism Meets Traveler has a decent rundown of the specifics of some of these contracts.
If your flight is delayed or canceled, here’s who you want to be flying with:
- European airlines: Under EU regulations, carriers operating from an airport in an EU member state must compensate passengers with up to 600 euros, plus a flight to their ticketed destination, if one of a few things happens. These include denied boarding, canceled or overbooked flights and delays of five hours or greater—as long as the delay or cancelation isn’t caused by weather and you were notified of the changes within two weeks of your departure date.
- Delta: Delta offers refunds for canceled flights, delays of more than 90 minutes or delays that will make you miss your flight. It also offers rebooking on Delta or other carriers, lodging vouchers and transportation to accommodations.
- Southwest: If a Southwest flight is canceled or significantly delayed, passengers can automatically rebook on the next flight to their destination or receive a refund. Southwest also has one of the most generous cancellation policies in the business. Passengers can cancel their ticket up to 10 minutes before their scheduled departure, then apply that fare to another ticket within a year.
- Alaska: Alaska provides accommodation for passengers who are more than 100 miles away from home when their flight gets canceled. Passengers are also entitled to a discount off a future flight if they’re delayed for more than two hours.
- JetBlue: JetBlue is one of the few airlines that does consider weather conditions. The airline waives rebooking fees for changes to flights that were canceled because of storms. Passengers are also automatically entitled to a credit of between $25-$200 for delayed flights, depending on the length of the delay. The airline even has an online tool that lets passengers check if their flight qualifies for compensation.
Airfare Watchdog has more information on individual airline policies and passenger rights.