What Travelers Need to Know About Flight Delays

By TripIt

June 05, 2019

By Johnny Jet – For the past 20 years, Johnny Jet averaged 150,000 miles and 20 countries a year. He has been featured in many major publications and appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC and PBS.

You just entered the airport. You check-in, pass through security and head to your gate. Then, you see that dreaded word pop up in your notifications. Your flight? It’s been delayed. Now what?

A delayed flight may mean a lot of waiting around and uncertainty with very few answers. Flight delays are sometimes caused by weather, air traffic control, or mechanical issues. Despite what you may have heard, U.S.-based airlines are not required to provide compensation when flights are delayed or canceled. Airlines are only required to compensate you if you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold.

By understanding the causes and your rights as a passenger for flight delays, you’ll be better equipped to make decisions. There are also a few strategies to help you avoid delays for important flights. Additionally, having travel insurance and knowing the insurance protections that come with the best credit cards for travel miles and rewards can help you in these frustrating situations.  

Here’s what you need to know about flight delays.


When You Won’t Get Compensation

Whether the delay is the airline’s fault or not, they are not required to compensate you if the flight is delayed or canceled. Sometimes you can find a seat on an alternate flight. However, airlines don’t guarantee their schedule, and unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done if future planes are all booked.

One way to avoid this is to book the earliest flight in the day, especially if you anticipate that bad weather may be a factor. When you book an early flight, you can hang out in an airport lounge and possibly avoid a ripple effect of delays that occur throughout the day. At the very minimum, try to avoid the last flight out when you can.


You’ve Been Bumped from an Oversold Flight, Now What?

Finally, some good news: by law, you’re entitled to receive compensation on domestic flights if you’re bumped from a flight that is oversold or overbooked.

If you are involuntarily bumped or removed from a flight due to overbooking, the airline owes you compensation if it can't get you to your destination within one to two hours of the scheduled arrival on a domestic flight. However, if you’re bumped and the airline manages to get you to your destination within that time frame, you won’t be compensated.

The compensation is 200 percent of the one-way fare to your destination, up to $650. If the airline can't make the time requirements, it owes you 400 percent of the fare, up to $1,300. In either case, make sure you get a written statement from the airline. You’ll need this to receive compensation.

More good news: TripIt has partnered with AirHelp to assist Pro users in claiming compensation for lengthy delays or cancellations that happen on eligible flights to/from and within the European Union (EU). TripIt Pro users can also connect their TripIt and AirHelp accounts to see if they’re eligible for compensation for any EU flight disruptions they’ve experienced in the past three years. You can connect your TripIt and AirHelp accounts on the AirHelp website by signing in with your TripIt credentials.


What to Do About Flight Delays

On many airlines, if a flight is “substantially” delayed or rescheduled, you may be able to get a refund, even if the ticket is nonrefundable. Most airlines define substantial delays by two hours or more, but keep in mind each airline has a different policy.

Once you’re notified of the delay, immediately get in line at the ticket counter to see if they can book you on a different flight. Then, call the airline’s customer service number while you’re standing in line. You might be able to book a new flight through another airline. You can ask your current airline to endorse your ticket to the new carrier, however, there’s no guarantee they will do this.

If you have a layover, a delay could mean a possible missed connection. If this happens, the airline should rebook you on the next available flight. If it’s not until the next morning, the airline may provide you accommodations and meals.

Tip: TripIt Pro’s Alternate Flights feature can help you figure out what your options are for getting on a different flight. Pro members can search for alternate flights right in the Pro hub.


What to Know About Delays After You’ve Boarded the Plane

Federal law says airlines can’t keep you on a plane while it’s still on the tarmac for more than three hours (and more than four hours on an international flight) without returning to the gate to let you off. Within two hours of a tarmac delay, the airline is also required to give you food and drink.

Note that if you decide to get off the plane, the airline isn’t required to let you back on. At that point, you are responsible for reaching your destination.


Keep Calm and Keep Airline Contacts Handy

Delays can be stressful, especially if the reason for the trip is an important business, family, or even a bleisure trip. A smile and calm demeanor go a long way when airport employees are faced with angry and frustrated passengers. Ask what your options are and how likely it is that you would be able to board the next flight. I also recommend saving a contact list with phone numbers of the airlines you frequent on your phone. This way, you’ll be able to make contact more quickly and continue on your intended journey sooner.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by TripIt. The author may include references to products from advertisers. For an explanation of this contributor’s advertising disclosure, please click here.