Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions
Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - The Cost of Cancellations - Who Foots the Bill?
When a flight gets canceled, it can wreak havoc on travelers’ plans and budgets. But who ends up footing the bill for the cancellation - the airline or the passenger? The answer depends on a variety of factors.
First off, if the cancellation is due to bad weather, air traffic control issues, or other situations outside of the airline's control, they are not obligated to provide compensation. The passenger bears the cost. However, if the cancellation stems from a mechanical issue, staffing problems, or something else within the airline's sphere of influence, they may be on the hook for associated expenses.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines must provide a refund to passengers if the flight is canceled and they choose not to travel. But that refund only covers the ticket cost - not other financial losses incurred. Things like missed vacation activities, hotel bookings, and car rentals must be covered by the passenger.
However, some airlines may offer travel vouchers as a goodwill gesture. For example, Delta provides $50-$200 e-vouchers for flight cancellations between North America and select international destinations. But there are no guarantees.
Europe offers stronger protections under EC Regulation 261. Passengers on European flights delayed over 3 hours are entitled to €250-€600 in compensation. U.S. flyers enjoy no such safeguards. Airlines can leave you high and dry.
Delta cancelled over 2,500 flights during Christmas week 2021, disrupting nearly 300,000 passengers' plans. Some waited days for rebooking. Despite bearing responsibility, Delta only offered a measly $50 voucher or 5,000 miles. That's a far cry from full compensation.
What else is in this post?
- Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - The Cost of Cancellations - Who Foots the Bill?
- Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - Waiting It Out - How Airlines Treat Stranded Passengers
- Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - Rebooking and Rerouting Rules - Policies Vary Widely
- Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - Compensation and Vouchers - What You're Owed When Flights Are Delayed
Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - Waiting It Out - How Airlines Treat Stranded Passengers
When your flight gets canceled or severely delayed, it often means waiting things out at the airport - sometimes for many miserable hours or even days. How airlines treat stranded passengers in these situations varies widely. While a few go above and beyond to take care of their customers, many do the bare minimum (or less). Here’s a look at what it’s like waiting out airline disruptions.
If you find yourself stuck at an airport for hours on end, most airlines will at least provide the basics - food and drink vouchers. These usually range from $10-$15 per passenger. But with airport restaurants charging a premium, that small allowance may only cover a snack or two. You’ll likely be dipping into your own wallet. More passenger-friendly airlines like Southwest and JetBlue offer greater voucher amounts during lengthy delays.
Overnight hotel accommodations are another need when strandings drag on. Most airlines will provide these when delays stretch past midnight. But still expect hassles - shuttles to offsite properties, arguing over group bookings, and long lines to secure your room. European airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways have this process down, while many U.S. counterparts continue to struggle.
Seating and amenities for the delay duration is another area where airlines fail miserably. Even when not bumped into cramped standby areas, seats are uncomfortable and outlets scarce. Only a few airlines (Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, etc.) offer business class lounges as a reprieve. For most, it’s make do in packed waiting areas with little sleep or productivity.
Once delays stretch past 4-5 hours, passenger treatment picks up the most. Airlines like Southwest proactively hand out meal vouchers at this point without requiring asking. Agent staffing increases to deal with the crowd. Comfort items may be handed out - pillows, blankets, toiletries. It's when multi-day strandings happen that airlines provide the best care - clothing vouchers, toiletries, shower passes, and more.
Perhaps most importantly is access to customer service. Gate agents and help desks are perpetually overwhelmed, leading to little real-time help. Phone queues can exceed 5 hours. Social media, email and self-serve rebooking become key channels. Air Canada and United are notorious for poor response times, while Delta and KLM rate well.
Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - Rebooking and Rerouting Rules - Policies Vary Widely
When your flight gets canceled or delayed, you’re at the mercy of the airline's rebooking and rerouting policies. Unfortunately, these rules vary widely between carriers - and even differ on international versus domestic flights. Understanding how airlines handle disrupted itineraries can make navigating a cancellation easier.
On domestic U.S. flights, most airlines will automatically rebook you on the next flight to your destination. But that usually involves getting put on standby, with no confirmed seat. Upgrades to guaranteed seats often require calling the airline or paying change fees. International flights often provide confirmed rebookings by default.
If the next flight isn’t until the next day, U.S. airlines will generally provide a hotel voucher. But the quality varies. Alaska and Hawaiian put you up in airport hotels while American sends you 45 minutes away. International carriers like Lufthansa house passengers in 4-star downtown properties.
When it comes to rerouting, U.S. airlines take a hands-off approach. You’re left to rebook your own connection online. Overseas airlines automatically rebook connections, sometimes even on partner carriers. This prevents misconnections from a delay cascading into multiple cancellations.
Meal vouchers also differ - $12 on United, $15 on Delta, and $25 on JetBlue. International flights get more - Lufthansa provides €60 meal vouchers in Europe. Compensation varies wildly too - up to €600 required in Europe vs only voluntary “goodwill” vouchers on U.S. airlines.
Partner airlines can constrain rebooking options. Delta may refuse to rebook you on KLM since it requires compensation Delta won’t pay. Codeshares create complexities - an Air France codeshare may deny you a Delta rebooking.
Grounded! The Best and Worst Airlines for Dealing with Flight Disruptions - Compensation and Vouchers - What You're Owed When Flights Are Delayed
When your flight is delayed or canceled, you're often left wondering what you're owed in terms of compensation or vouchers from the airline. Unfortunately, policies vary widely between carriers and depend heavily on where you're flying. Understanding what benefits you can expect will make navigating disruptions much smoother.
If flying within the U.S. on a domestic carrier like Delta or American, compensation is essentially nil. Airlines are not required under law to provide any monetary reimbursement for delays. At most, you may get a small "goodwill" voucher valued at $50-$200 as an apology. These are handed out on a purely voluntary basis though - don't expect one for minor delays. Meal and hotel vouchers for lengthy strandings are more common.
For European flights under EC Regulation 261 however, the story is very different. Hard compensation is required by law for all flights departing the EU when delays hit the 3+ hour mark. Payouts scale up based on delay length, starting at €250 for 3-4 hours and maxing out at €600 for delays of 4+ hours. That can provide substantial reimbursement for lost vacation time and expenses.
The catch is that U.S. carriers often refuse to pay EU compensation, even on return flights back from Europe. In those cases you'll have to fight through claims processing centers and threat of lawsuit to get your owed payout. Stories abound of 2+ year waits. European airlines like Lufthansa or KLM however readily provide EU delay compensation to their passengers.
No matter the airline, securing meal, hotel, and rebooking vouchers is an anxiety-inducing process. Gate agents are perpetually overwhelmed, with hours-long waits commonplace to get handed a voucher card. Calls to service centers ring endlessly. Marked service desks are frequently abandoned. The lack of care and communication from airlines during disruptions only exacerbates the passenger's misery.