(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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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