A nasty storm with 60 mph winds raked parts of the Northeast on Tuesday creating dangerous conditions on the road and snarling airports.
More than 1,200 flights were cancelled before noon, mostly along the East Coast, but that is likely to spread west as the day goes on.
Airlines can’t control the weather, but they are still required to provide refunds for customers whose flights are canceled. Here’s what to know about your rights, and what to know when cancellations start piling up:
When airlines expect bad weather to create problems for flights, they often give travelers a chance to reschedule their trip by a few days at no extra fee. Google your airline and “travel alerts” or similar phrases to see the offers.
It’s better to be stuck at home or in a hotel than to be stranded in an airport terminal, so use the airline’s app or flight websites to make sure that your flight is still on before heading out to the airport. Airlines usually cancel flights hours or even days before departure time.
If you’re already at the airport, it’s time to multi-task to find another flight. Get in line to speak to an airline representative, and call or go online to connect to the airline’s reservations staff. It also helps to reach out on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.
Most airlines will rebook you on a later flight for no additional charge. That depends, however, on the airline having empty seats.
You can, but airlines aren’t required to put you on another carrier’s flight. Some airlines, including the biggest ones except Southwest, say they can put you on a partner airline, but even then it’s often hit or miss. Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, recommends researching alternate flights while you wait to talk to an agent.
If you no longer want to take the trip, or found alternative means of getting where you’re going, the airline is legally required to pay a refund, even if you bought a non-refundable ticket. It doesn’t matter why the flight was canceled.
“They can’t stick you with a voucher, you can get your money back,” says Kyle Potter, executive editor of Thrifty Traveler. “That means you have to cancel your entire reservation, but that could be an easy option for some travelers — especially if you wind up booking a flight on another carrier.”
You are also entitled to a refund of any bag fees, seat upgrades or other extras that you didn’t get to use.
U.S. airlines are not required to pay compensation, even if the cancellation is their fault — such as the lack of a crew, a mechanical problem that grounds the plane, or a computer outage that brings the airline to a halt. However, the Transportation Department is working on a proposal to change that when the airline is at fault.
“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines,” President Joe Biden said. “That’s why our top priority has been to get American air travelers a better deal.”
There is no federal requirement that airlines pick up the costs of hotel rooms or meals for stranded passengers. Each airline has its own policy.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has a site that lets consumers see the commitments that each airline makes for refunds and covering other expenses when flights are canceled or significantly delayed.
If the weather forecast is troubling, consider booking a backup flight, says Potter, the Thrifty Traveler editor. He says Southwest and Delta stand out as potential backups because they let customers cancel for a full refund as long as they cancel within 24 hours of booking. “Others only allow that when you book at least two or even seven days in advance,” he says.
If you are in a group and one person belongs to a higher level of the airline’s frequent-flyer program, use the number associated with that person to call the airline, says Kurt Ebenhoch, a travel consumer advocate and former airline spokesman.
If lots of flights are canceled, airline agents will soon be swamped. Try calling your airline’s international help number — usually available online — those agents can make changes in your itinerary too.
Be nice. The agent you’re talking to is probably dealing with lots of other frustrated travelers too, and screaming at the agent won’t make them want to help you. The cancellation isn’t their fault.