Flight delays and cancellations are never fun but there are some things you can do to ease the pain. Keep in mind that the DOT/FAA does not require the airlines to compensate you for delayed or cancelled flights. This is scary so make sure you fly with airlines that are generous in this area, especially if you have connections.
First, let’s talk weather delays. Airlines are not obligated to compensate you for flight delays due to weather. Very rarely will airlines compensate you when weather causes an major delay or cancellation. At the very most, the airlines may endorse your ticket to allow you to fly another airline (to the same destination), but they don’t have to. (and rarely do)
Mechanical delays or issues with the crew are a little bit different than weather delays, the airline is the party to blame in this case. Typically if a mechanical issue causes an overnight delay the airline will compensate you with a hotel voucher. Keep in mind, there is no federal regulation requiring the airline to compensate you so long as they eventually get you to your destination. Things to remember when talking to the agent;
Why Southwest is awesome – Southwest, per the agent that worked the magic, will let you fly into another airport within 100 miles of your original destination if your flight is delayed more than 50 minutes. Flying from Burbank to Oakland a few years ago, I walked up to the counter and told the agent that our flight was delayed 1:15 and that was going to be an issue. I asked if we could fly into Sacramento (where we were heading anyways but Oak was half the price, hehe) and they told me about the policy and put us on a flight to Sac. Be sure to use this to your benefit if you are flying into an area with multiple nearby airports such as Bay area, LA, New York, South Florida, DC etc.
When it comes to overbooking the airlines are required to compensate you if you are involuntarily bumped. Bumped means they kick you off the flight because they ran out of seats. Yes, airlines intentionally overbook flights so they can offset the no-shows. This practice is completely legal. Now, if your flight is overbooked, the airline will usually page for volunteers at the gate so they don’t have to give somebody the boot. They generally offer a flight voucher of $200-400 in addition to putting you on the next flight. If you aren’t in a hurry (or have access to an airport lounge) you can wait for the next flight and make a few hundred bucks towards a future flight!
Airlines usually won’t tell you but they are required to compensate you if they delay or lose your bag. If your bag is delayed the DOT mandates that airlines must pay ‘reasonable expenses’ to help with the inconvenience. If your bag is lost for good, the airline has to pay the entire cost of your belongings, up to $3,300. If your bag isn’t going to be coming until the next day, let them know you need to buy a set of clothes and ask for $50-100, they will usually give it to you.
What can help with all of these scenarios? Airline status. Every airline has a loyalty program with levels of status ranging from silver up to platinum (or a similar range). When you have airline status you automatically receive priority standby. The higher the status the higher your place in the standby line. Most airlines give priority baggage handling when you have status. This means your bag comes off the plane quicker and “is handled with more care”. Whatever that means. Almost all airline statuses waive checked bag fees which can save you a minimum of $50 round trip.
If you want to read all the rules posted by the DOT, Check them out here.