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What rights do passengers on delayed flights in the USA have? In some countries, depending on the length and type of delay, passengers can receive a free phone call, meal ticket, lodging, booking on alternate carriers etc. Are there any rules in the USA or is it up to the airline to determine the policy? Also, does the kind of delay matter, for example weather delay, mechanical delay, air traffic delay etc.

I'm curious because a recent 1 hour weather delay on a short domestic flight meant that I was unable to make an international connection. Since that particular international flight only runs once on day, the 1 hour weather delay turned into a 24 hour delay. In my case, I didn't mind departing a day later, but I'm pretty sure that there were routes on other airlines that would have arrived at around the same time. Would I have any right to ask to be switched to those other airlines? Would it make a difference if it was a mechanical delay instead of a weather delay (ie. the airlines fault)?

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If the airline can make any claim of weather, traffic, or any sort of delay out of their control, then you have no right to recompense. Sometimes they will offer hotel vouchers for overnight delays, but in my experience this is almost exclusively when it is due to mechanical problems with their equipment.

Even if the delays are due to problems on their end, there is no regulation requiring them to compensate you. The only time you are due compensation is when you are bumped from a flight for overbooking.

However, sometimes airlines may be willing to endorse transfers to other airlines, particularly in the case of flight cancellations. This is, however, entirely at their discretion. If they are not willing to work with you, there could actually be additional charges for cancellations.

  • The fact that there are no regulations does not necessarily mean they are not required to compensate you. After all, you paid them for a timed service where time is of the essence and they failed to provide that service, cause you (usually) provable damage. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Nov 29 '17 at 14:21
  • @einpoklum Sure, you can sue for just about anything in the US. Good luck on winning, though. – Beofett Nov 29 '17 at 14:24
  • Well, I don't live in the US, but if these lawsuits are typically winnable then that means they have grounds, i.e. that the airline has a legal obligation to compensate you, which is essentially what OP was asking. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Nov 29 '17 at 14:29
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    @einpoklum The first link is apparently dead, but it was a government web page informing consumers that they explicitly do not have the right to compensation, as I outlined in my answer. Which pretty strongly implies that the lawsuits are not typically winnable. i.e. the airline does not have a legal obligation to compensate you, which is essentially what the OP was asking. – Beofett Nov 29 '17 at 14:31
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For most weather related cancellations or delays (technical term is WX), as Beofett noted, the airline typically owes you nothing more than eventually getting you there (sometimes even by bus, although difficult to do in over-water flights :D), or refunding you your money.

For mechanical delays or cancellations (MX), the airline has a much higher obligation - usually re-routing you on other airlines or offering you overnight accommodations.

Here's some tips for handling irregular operations (IROPS):

  • Fly enough to earn status on an airline. The higher the status, the greater the likelihood of you getting something comped in IROPS
  • Definitely ask if there are any flights on partners or, failing that, other airlines. The originating carrier is usually loath to send you on a competitor, but sometimes it happens
  • Be nice and courteous to the agent! Although you've had a rough day and it's not your fault, it really isn't theirs either. If the gate agent is harried, find one at another gate, or call the airline number.
  • If your trip was now wasted because you missed the flight, tell the agent that it was a "trip in vain" and you just want to go home. They may not refund your ticket price from the hub to your home, but you should at least get the fare difference back on the int'l portion.
  • Schedule more time in between flights. Given it was a once-a-day to some far-off destination, you only had an hour's buffer? That's super risky, especially in summer months (thunderstorms, etc.). I usually try and have 3-4 hours minimum - I check and make sure there's at least one more flight in between my flight and the int'l departure, in case something happens to the first one.
  • For the longer layovers, get a lounge pass for one of the airlines. It's much quieter, calmer, and usually there's free food, drink, and internet to pass the time
  • Sleep at the airport - check out http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ . I've spent a few overnighters in airports and if you do it right, you can actually get a reasonable night's sleep, and be ready for the 6AM flight outta there!
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    I would have scheduled a longer stopover, but I was using miles for a reward ticket and this was the only scheduled they offered me. All of the agents I spoke with told me the wished the airline would stop selling risky schedules like this as it just caused them problems later... – user27478 Jun 25 '11 at 17:35
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I'm curious myself and did a Google search. I could only find some new news from PBS. They covered the new Passenger Bill of Rights (effective August 2011):

Excerpt:

Notification of Flight Changes: Airlines are now required to inform passengers of delays and bumps either at the gate, via cell phone, or online for domestic flights. This gives passengers the option not to board a delayed flight and arrange other means of arriving at their destination.

I will add more info as I have more time to do research.

One other note. Apparently, these regulations are enforced but often airlines violate these rights regardless of if they're law. They're willing to just pay fines instead.

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If you are flying an EU-based carrier, the EU laws apply (even in the US). Regarding domestic flights, I am not sure. I am not a lawyer, but I guess that since many US airlines code-share with EU partners that buying your ticket from an EU company might give you more compensation rights, even in the US.

Since you are not stating the direction of your international connection, I am not sure if this answer applies to your specific case.

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