Southwest Airlines cancellations: what are airline passengers entitled to?

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(CNN) – Your flight is canceled. You have to stay in a hotel and pay for dinner or scramble to find a rental car. What are you entitled to?

That’s a question many frustrated Southwest Airlines customers are asking about the thousands of canceled flights over the weekend and through Monday.

Beyond a refund for a canceled flight, US airlines are not obligated to compensate passengers.

“There are no real rules that will allow passengers to get any compensation or even overnight accommodation if they are really late,” said Charlie Leocha, president and co-founder of Travelers United, a non-profit organization that advocates for consumers.

Travelers United has tried to get the US Department of Transportation and Congress to adopt protections for air travelers similar to those in Europe, which include hotel accommodation and other compensation for significant delays and disruptions.
The rules of the Ministry of Transport are clear: “Airlines are not required to provide passengers with money or other compensation for costs that do not fall under the canceled plane ticket and costs directly related to the ticket. ‘airplane,’ the DOT website says.

But airlines have their own policies, the DOT notes. He advises passengers to ask airline staff if they will pay for a hotel room or meals.

Southwest Airlines did not immediately respond to questions from CNN Travel about hotel or meal compensation, but the airline said it was trying to change passengers’ reservations.

“We are working diligently to welcome our customers as quickly as possible, and we appreciate their patience,” the airline said in a statement. “We are providing customers with additional flexibility to explore self-service reservation change options on Southwest.com, where they can get updates on the status of their trip.”

Leocha said guests should ask about rates for “stranded passenger” hotels. He says airlines have deals with nearby hotels that can result in a 30-50% discount for stranded customers. They are usually offered to elite passengers, he said, but can be extended to other travelers.

Cash refunds

When an airline cancels the flight, passengers have the right to get their money back for the ticket if they decide not to travel. And they should insist on cash rather than vouchers.

“If you choose not to be accommodated on a subsequent flight, you are entitled to a cash refund, although that may not help you get to where you need to go,” said Robert Feinberg, specialist in marketing of the airline tickets website Scott’s Cheap Flights.

But that’s the extent of it. On the way for a cruise or for a concert that you will now miss? The airline is not responsible for these costs.

“The airlines are not obligated to reimburse you for travel expenses affected by the canceled flight, such as a prepaid hotel room, cruise, vacation, concert or other tickets, or lost wages. “, according to the DOT.

You could have recourse through travel insurance.

“If you booked with a credit card, be sure to check if you are covered by a travel insurance policy that could reimburse you for additional expenses incurred like hotels or the cost of a new return flight.” advises Feinberg.

He also suggests writing to customer support after the fact to express your disappointment. Sometimes this can result in a voucher for future travel.

Every airline has a transport contract that passengers enter into when purchasing tickets. They have “force majeure” clauses which limit their liability in the event of non-completion or interruption of the service.

The “force majeure” in the Southwest Airlines contract of carriage can be any of a long list of events, including natural disasters, weather, riots, wars, industrial disputes, strikes. , work stoppages, air traffic control and “the inability to get fuel.” , airport gates, labor or landing facilities for the flight in question. “
The airline blamed this weekend’s cancellations on limited staff in Florida, bad weather and air traffic control issues, though the exact causes of the disruptions are a matter of debate.

Whatever the cause, the large transport contract seems to cover it.

Top image: A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 heads for the departure gate after touching down at Midway International Airport in Chicago on April 6. Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP / Getty Images


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