Know Your Rights: You Are Entitled to a Refund for a Canceled Flight

A female passenger in a medical mask is waiting for a flight at the airport. stock photo
ilona titova /

Lengthy lockdowns and travel bans during the pandemic hit the airline industry particularly hard. As demand returns, carriers are scrambling to address worker shortages, steep fuel prices and their own capacities to provide service to customers.

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Due to industry pressures, airlines are canceling flights, slashing summer schedules and, as American Airlines is doing, discontinuing flights to certain destinations, per CNBC.

While airlines figure out their particular set of operational issues, what recourse do you, the passenger, have when your flight gets canceled?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, “A consumer is entitled to a refund if the airline canceled a flight, regardless of the reason and the consumer chooses not to travel.”

Compensation is required by U.S. law when certain passengers are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold. For flight delays, the picture gets murkier, with numerous factors being weighed in determining what constitutes a “significant delay.”

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For cancellations, however, airlines are obligated to provide a refund — even on non-refundable tickets — for your unused reserved flight, plus any costs associated with your ticket (i.e.: bag fees or seat assignment), per the DOT. The airline will very likely first try to fit you on a later flight, if possible, and has the right to try to book you with another airline.

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Additionally, according to The Points Guy, airlines will try to refund your flight in the form of a future flight voucher, sometimes with bonuses added like discounts or travel miles. If a refund is what you want, a refund is what you’ll need to fight for — by requesting it from the airline, disputing the charge on your credit card or filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

There are no hard and fast rules to recoup trip losses as a result of a canceled flight. If you miss a wedding, cruise or concert, carriers are not required to reimburse you for the missed activity. They also aren’t obligated to provide accommodation, meals or transportation when your flight is canceled, but have regulations in place for consequential inconveniences and exceptional circumstances.

Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights May Advance

Given the lack of legislation pertaining to passengers’ rights regarding flight delays and cancellation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s proposed Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights legislation may have to be looked at again after being sent to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for review in Nov. 2021.

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Aside from proposing regulations on unrestricted scheduled information, price protections and carrier fees concerning passengers, the bill addresses refunds and provides for incidental costs associated with delayed or canceled flights — and establishes compensation to any passenger denied boarding as a result of an oversold flight at a minimum of $1,350.

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“This comprehensive bill will make the skies friendlier for airline passengers,” said Blumenthal in a press statement. “From skyrocketing fees and shrinking seats to airline-caused delays and cancellations, air travel has become stressful, unpredictable, and uncomfortable for fliers.”

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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