Delayed or cancelled airline flights will throw you into a complex maze of uncertainties filled with exceptions and rules. However, there is a process to lead you out of this maze.These steps will walk you through this process to ensure your trip is successful.
Government Will Not Save You
Let’s get one thing settled first: the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) has written no hard and set rules to govern delayed and cancelled flights. Mommy government will not rescue you. You’re on your own.
The task to solve the headache of your missed flight falls squarely on your shoulders. Only your native cunning and perseverance will resolve the problem. So saddle up, traveler, and get to work.
Know this and hammer it into stone: The airlines made the fix you’re in, and it is the airlines who can solve your problem. Thus, treat the situation with equal amounts of firmness and courtesy. Don’t scream at the passenger service agent. Instead, treat that agent as your best friend.
Your Problem Has Two Parts
The problem can be divided into two parts:
1. You need to fly to your destination. That part is handled by the airline.
2. If you miss connections and lose reservations, such as cruise ship departures or reserved hotel and resort rooms, that part will be taken care of by travel insurance. Travel insurance, with a single exception, will not compensate you for delayed and cancelled flights. You’ll learn about that single exception in a bit.
Each airline has its own policies it follows if a flight should be canceled or delayed. These policies are listed under “contracts of carriage” for each individual airline. Read them so you are forearmed with knowledge.
To avoid nasty publicity, most airlines are reasonably keen to provide some modicum of relief to passengers stranded a million miles from home. These benefits may include meals and a motel room if you’re stranded overnight. These small tokens should be provided free. Remember, though, that airlines are not legally required to provide these benefits. Be polite and firm and ask your passenger service agent to arrange meals and lodging.
How to Be Proactive and Get Your Trip Back on Track
Airlines are not legally required to whip out the checkbook and compensate you. Should a canceled flight mean an overnight stay, the airline may offer a free hotel room and meals. Most likely, you will be booked on another flight the following day. That’s the way the ball rolls.
Should your flight be cancelled, here are three strategies to get your trip on track again:
1. Transfer your ticket to another airline.
2. Arrange another flight with the same airline.
3. Pay people already in the boarding line, who are already guaranteed a seat, some amount of money to take their place.
Getting Bumped Off a Flight
If you’re bumped from a flight, different rules kick in. The involuntary bump is usually the result of airlines overbooking a flight. No, overbooking is not illegal.
When you’re bumped off a flight, DOT regulations require the airlines to land you at your destination within an hour of your originally set arrival or face monetary consequences.
If the airline is one to two hours late of your scheduled arrival, the airline must pay you 200% of the value of your fare. The ceiling is $675.
If the arrival is more than two hours late, expect a 400% pay-off. The limit is $1,350.
Some airlines are offering up to $10,000 in compensation to cool off bumped passengers.
The best way to ensure a seat is to arrive for your flight early and check in. Studies show that those who pay the least for a flight are usually bumped first. Late-arriving passengers are second on the list.
300,000 Flights Cancelled Yearly
The US Department of Transportation reports that airlines cancel about 5% of flights each month. That means you have a one in 20 chance of seeing your flight cancelled.
Flightstats.com reports that about 300,000 flights are cancelled yearly. About 6 million flights are delayed.
Reasons for cancellations include nasty weather, especially in winter, and mechanical problems on the aircraft. Travel insurance will not cover delayed or missed flights. This is the responsibility of the airlines to fix the mess.
Here’s Where Travel Insurance Steps In
Travel insurance will step in and protect you if a delayed or cancelled flight causes you to miss another leg of your trip.
For example, if you’re flying from New York to board a cruise ship in Miami and a delayed flight causes you to miss the boarding, your credit card will not cover the missed boarding. Travel insurance will.
Travel Insurance can cover the stranded traveler. So if you miss your boat due to weather-related delays or cancellation, travel insurance will reimburse you. It also covers the unexpected cost of a hotel room if your flight is cancelled for a day. And should you need to cancel a hotel reservation due to a cancelled or delayed flight, you are covered.
Read the fine print on trip cancellation, and you’ll find that travel insurance covers non-refundable and pre-paid expenses. The insurance also covers you if your journey is interrupted. The general rule is that non-refundable and pre-paid expenses can be reimbursed by insurance.
What If You Cancel a Trip
You can also buy travel insurance that allows you to be compensated if you cancel your trip for any reason. Be forewarned, though, that compensation for cancellation may only pay out 50% of your travel costs. The cost for this cancel-for-any-reason policy can be as much as 8 to 12 percent of your trip’s cost.
Be certain to read any travel policy before signing because they are loaded with limits and exclusions.
The Exception to the Rule
Does any insurance cover cancelled or delayed flights? There is one.
Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection offers travel insurance protection for cancelled and delayed flights with a policy named Aircare.
Starting at $26 per direct, round-trip flight, AirCare pays travelers for delayed flights or if the plane sits on the tarmac. In some instances, the claims are paid automatically into your Paypal account. Here are the benefits:
1. A flight cancellation pays you a fixed benefit of $150 per flight.
2. A missed connection pays $100.
3. A tarmac delay lasting more than two hours pays $1,000.
4. If a flight is delayed more than two hours, the pay-out is $50.
5. Diverted flights pay $150.
6. A late night delay that occurs after 2 am pays $100.
Your Responsibility to Remedy Cancelled Flights
Travel insurers expect you make a good-faith effort to continue your trip even if you experience cancelled airline flights.
An example offered by Allianz Travel Insurance spins the tale of a couple flying off for a six-day river cruise on the Danube River.
While awaiting departure from New York City, a powerful rain storm hits, grounding all flights. Your cruise ship will be departing in 48 hours, but all flights scheduled for the next two days are full.
And even though you bought trip cancellation insurance, insurers want to see you make a good-faith effort to get to your destination.
You should make an effort to catch up to your cruise ship at a scheduled port stop. That means rescheduling your flight plan. You may still be able to make your cruise ship connection by flying to North Carolina and then on to Europe.
Call the help-line at the travel insurance company where you bought the policy. The professionals there may have solutions and connections to airlines you hadn’t thought of. This call will establish documentation of your good-faith effort.
Document everything, including the flight cancellation, who you talked to and what was said.
Meet the Challenge
Cancelled airline flights are a real challenge to any traveler. You need to be proactive, creative and make an effort to solve the problem yourself. You’ll need to work with the airline and also enlist the services of your insurance travel agent to get your trip back on track.
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