December 7, 2022


Just Do Travel

What should you do if your flight is canceled or delayed amid coronavirus surge?

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Planning to fly for the New Year’s holiday? If so, you may want to prepare yourself for the possibility that your flight will either be delayed or canceled.

In recent weeks, airlines across the globe have been forced to delay and cancel thousands of flights, in part due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) omicron variant affecting crew availability, as can be seen across the transportation sector.

On Monday, there were 3,260 canceled flights globally, including 1,474 U.S. flights, according to aviation data company FlightAware. Additionally, there were 16,562 delayed flights on Monday, with 8,053 of those delays taking place on U.S. flights, the data shows.

The uptick in delays and cancellations comes at one of the busiest travel times of the year, as people from across the world look to travel home for the winter holidays, and as air travel continues to inch closer to pre-pandemic levels.

Data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) shows that during the days leading up to Christmas, Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, agents screened an average of 1,948,697 passengers per day, a 166% increase from the 731,495 passengers averaged during the same two days in 2020, and just 24% less than the 2,567,387 passengers averaged during 2019.

So what should you do if you find yourself among the tens of thousands of daily travelers whose flights are being canceled or delayed?

Luckily for travelers, there are federal laws in place to ensure that they’re either accommodated on a later flight or issued a refund for their ticket, according to a New York Times report.

If your flight is delayed, airlines are required to issue a full refund if a flight is “significantly delayed” and the passenger chooses not to travel.

The problem is, what constitutes a significant delay can vary.

Scott Keyes, the founder of the airfare tracking service Scott’s Cheap Flights, told The New York Times that typically a delay of two hours is enough to trigger a refund, but that travelers should check their specific airline’s contract of carriage to see what the company deems a significant delay.

Should you elect to travel despite the delay, you’ll likely want to discuss your options with the agent at the airport gate as opposed to calling the airline due to extended wait times on customer service calls.

But if you really want to speak with the airline directly, Keyes told the media outlet that calling one of the international numbers may have shorter hold times.

“You want to make sure you know what the cellphone rates are, but if you’re calling Canada, it’s like two cents a minute,” Keyes said. “It’s going to be a 20-minute call versus a three-hour wait if you’re calling a U.S. hotline. I think it’s worth 40 cents.”

However, if you booked your flight through a travel agency as opposed to the airline itself, you’ll likely have to call the agency in order to resolve any issues, he told the Times.

Those who elect to travel despite the delay are not necessarily entitled to compensation under federal law like those who chose not to fly, though some airlines will offer accommodations if the delay was the result of a mechanical failure or staffing issue.

For example, American Airlines will fund an overnight stay for customers whose flights are delayed and do not board before midnight, a company spokeswoman told The New York Times.

Unfortunately, if the delay is weather-related, you’re out of luck.

If your flight is canceled, you’ll either be accommodated on the next available flight or, should you decide not to travel, you are entitled to a full refund under federal law, according to the report.

However, most airlines will try to issue a travel voucher instead of an actual refund, but Keyes said that you should implore the airline to refund the trip.

“That’s why it’s so important to know your rights under the law,” Keyes told The New York Times. “If you decide not to take a trip, try to push for getting a cash refund rather than a voucher. This may sound very obvious, but cash is a lot more valuable than an airline voucher.”