Consumer Alert: Flying the unfriendly skies. Your rights if your flight is delayed or canceled

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Are you planning to travel when the kids are out of school for spring break? How about this summer? If that’s the case, what happened last weekend is likely making you pretty nervous.

You saw the images of airports crammed with thousands of very unhappy vacationers. Airlines canceled or delayed more than 10,000 flights. Airlines said storms in Florida and a technology issue at Southwest were to blame.

A News10NBC viewer had a great question. He wanted to know why so many folks were sleeping in the airport. Aren’t airlines supposed to compensate travelers who have to stay in a hotel?

For answers, I reached out to a Flower City travel agent.

"All of the airlines have what they call a contract of carriage,” said Patty Bean of Bean Cruises and Travel. “And there are two instances where your flight might be canceled. The first one is a weather delay. You can’t do much about that. And the airline will not compensate you for a hotel, transportation to and from the airport and meals. But the other, a mechanical delay. They do have an obligation to do that under their contract of carriage."

And here’s the thing. The Department of Transportation doesn’t require the airlines to compensate you in either of those situations. But in their contract of carriage, that’s your agreement with the airline when you buy a ticket. Most airlines will compensate you for a mechanical delay.

So with the help travel agent Patty Bean here’s Deanna’s Do List:

  • Try to get a non-stop flight. That eliminates the possibility of a cancellation or a delay of the second leg of your flight.
  • Download the airline’s app on your smartphone. Waiting in lines to re-book can take forever. And when there are widespread cancellations, re-booking by phone is almost impossible.
  • Ask the carrier if it has an agreement with another airline. For example, United, American and Delta all have agreements allowing you to be booked on another airline to get you on your way sooner.

But the Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate you if they overbooked the flight and you’re bumped involuntarily. In those cases, the airline has to compensate you. And they have to give you cash or a check, not vouchers.

Here are the reimbursement requirements if you’re involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight.

  • If you arrive at your destination within 1 hour of your original scheduled arrival time, you get no money.
  • If you arrive at your destination between 1 to 2 hours after your original arrival time, you will be compensated for 200% of your one-way ticket price or $775, whichever is less.
  • If you arrive at your domestic destination more than 2 hours later than your original arrival time, international destination more than 4 hours later than your original arrival time, or if the airline does not make substitute travel arrangements for you, you will be compensated for 400% of your one-way ticket price or $1,550, whichever is less.
  • If you paid additional charges for seats, checked baggage, Wi-Fi, etc., and did not receive those services on your rebooked flight or were required to pay for those services again, you will be compensated for the price of those optional services.