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Air Travel

Weather cancellations and delays: Know your options

Tom Parsons  Feb 21, 2010

All of the storms we've had recently have put weather cancellations and delays in the minds of travelers.

The early February storms on the East Coast caused the cancellations of thousands of flights, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers on the ground. Washington, D.C., was a ghost town, and some passengers couldn't get out for days. Even the snow in Texas caused major air-traffic snarls.

We looked at a number of airline Web sites during these storms to see what information they were providing passengers. AirTran made it crystal clear that if your flight was canceled due to weather, you could rebook your flight without incurring additional fees, or you could receive a 100 percent refund if you hadn't departed and you decided to cancel your trip.

When we looked at other sites, some had bold type linking to information on the storms and others had type so small that I had to take out a magnifying glass to read it. Many of those links had statements that you could reschedule your flight, but they made no mention of a refund. If you looked at the contracts of carriage, however, you could find out that on most carriers, if your flight is canceled due to acts of God (force majeure), which include weather, and you can't get to your destination in a reasonable amount of time, you have the option of canceling your flight and receiving a refund.

If you want to check your airline's policy on weather delays and cancellations, we've had good luck finding them online by entering "force majeure" or "carriage" in the Web site's search box.

If you were scheduled to depart on a three-day weekend on Thursday and you can't get out until Saturday, you are probably going to want to cancel the trip. Even if you decide to reschedule your trip, getting a refund will be better than getting a credit for your trip, since it will give you many more flight options.

If you are flying on Airline A and you cancel and get a $300 refund, you'll have cash in hand to choose an alternate flight on multiple airlines. If you, instead, get a voucher for Airline A, you will be able to fly only on that one airline.

An important thing to keep in mind is that if you have already traveled to your destination and you're trying to return home, you probably are better off being rescheduled. Purchasing flights with little advance can really cost you, so in most cases it wouldn't be worth canceling a return trip. For example, no-advance- purchase one-way flights from New York to Dallas can cost $900.

If you arrive at the airport and your flight is canceled before you take off, the airlines don't have to give you anything. If, however, you take off and are stuck at a connecting airport, you may receive hotel accommodation and food vouchers from the airline. If there are long lines at the airport to get rebooked, skip those lines and call the airline to get a confirmed seat.

You may think the worst of the weather delays are over, but we still could see winter storms this year. There also are other weather issues that can cause problems, such as the upcoming hurricane season.

At any time, check your flight status before you leave for the airport and know your options if the flight status changes.

Weather cancellations and delays: Know your options
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