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What to Do If Your Flight Is Canceled

group of angry businesspeople having argument with airport receptionist
By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

It's the five words that no holiday traveler wants to hear: your flight has been cancelled.

Unfortunately, cancelled flights are a reality for thousands of holiday travelers every year. According to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, nearly 3% of flights by major carriers were cancelled during the 2013 winter holiday travel season.

So what should you do if your flight is among those that are bound to be cancelled this holiday season? Here are a few tips:

  • Be proactive. According to the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division, travelers should be aware that airlines don't guarantee the schedule of their flights, and that there are many things that can lead to a cancellation outside of the airline's control. If at all possible, give yourself extra time to make it to your destination, especially when inclement weather is in the forecast.
  • No federal rules for cancellations. There are no federal rules governing what airlines must do in the event that a flight is cancelled. This means that individual airlines may each have different policies regarding cancellations. Generally, however, an airline will rebook you on the next available flight to your destination at no charge.
  • Ask if airline will endorse ticket to different airline. If another carrier has space on a flight to your destination, you may be able to ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to the other carrier, according to the DOT. However, at peak travel times, finding extra seats may be difficult.
  • Consider rescheduling. If the idea of waiting at the airport for conditions to change or for a seat on another flight to become available sounds unappealing and your trip can be rescheduled, you may be able to use your ticket for a different flight at a later time, or receive a full refund by contacting the airline.
  • Don't expect a free hotel room, meals. Although some airlines may provide compensation for meals or lodging in the event that your flight is cancelled, there is no legal requirement that an airline do so. American Airlines, for example, offers vouchers for a "discounted rate" at an approved hotel for passengers whose flights are cancelled, but does not cover transportation to and from the hotel or meals.
  • Call customer service. As soon as you discover your flight has been cancelled, call your airline's customer service line, even if you're already waiting in line at the airport. You may be able to get through faster on the phone, especially during busy holiday travel seasons.

Learn more about travel-related legal issues like airline rules, rental car insurance, and more at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Travel Rules and Rights.

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