After mass cancelations from airlines in October and November left passengers scrambling for hotel rooms and new flights, the holiday season promises to be busy.
Before you board, NBC 5 Responds shows you what you’re entitled to and what you should do if you’re stranded by a long delay or canceled flight.
'I’ve Got to Go to Work; I Don’t Have a Hotel Anymore'
Heading home from a weekend in Antelope Canyon, Sandra Simmons’ Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Dallas was canceled on a Sunday evening.
“I already got the message that I was rebooked on the next flight in the morning, 9:25 going through Colorado Springs and then Dallas,” said Simmons.
Simmons was due at work Monday morning and wanted to know if there were other options.
“Is there any other possibility? I’ve got to go to work. I don't have a hotel anymore. What do we do?” Simmons recalled asking an employee.
Simmons said the employee responded, “No, I don’t know. That's all I can do.”
What Department of Transportation Rules Say
According to Department of Transportation rules, if your flight is canceled, the passenger is entitled to a cash refund for the unused travel and extras like bag fees.
Keep in mind, a refund may not cover the cost of last-minute airfare on another airline.
If you’re stuck overnight, the airlines aren’t required by DOT rules to cover meals, transportation, or hotel rooms.
“There are no U.S. regulations that will require the airlines to provide you with overnight accommodation if your flight is canceled or you're delayed over overnight,” explained Charlie Leocha, president and co-founder of Travelers United.
Leocha is calling for rules similar to those in the European Union – where airlines must compensate passengers for many major disruptions.
“It can be done, it has been done and it will not set the airlines into bankruptcy,” said Leocha.
If Your Flight Is Canceled
If you’re dealing with a canceled flight, start working the phone, online chat and social media to rebook.
Take note of who you spoke to. You can write to the airline later.
Consumers also have the option to file a complaint with the DOT. It requires airlines to acknowledge complaints within 30 days and send consumers written responses to those complaints within 60 days.
“By then, you're going to be gone, but the substantive solution may be a discount on your next flight. That's something you should always, always ask for,” said Leocha.
In the meantime, Leocha also recommends consumers ask airlines for help booking hotels – as some offer distressed passenger discounts.
“Almost all of the airlines have negotiated hotel discounts,” said Leocha.
'Make Yourself Heard'
That’s what Sandra Simmons did when she reached out to the airline about her canceled flight home.
She said Southwest Airlines wrote back and offered a $150 voucher to use for future travel.
“Which is fine. I'm going to fly again eventually, of course. But at that moment, it was really bad,” said Simmons.
She said she accepted the voucher, figuring the amount covered what she paid out-of-pocket to spend another night in a Phoenix hotel.
“Make yourself heard because if you don't, then nobody's going to know,” said Simmons.
Southwest Airlines told NBC 5 Responds, in part, “…We don’t have a blanket set of accommodations for Customers whose travel is disrupted for one reason or the other as each case is unique. As in the case of the Customer story you referenced, we are delighted to hear they were happy with our response.”
The airline also said it previously reduced flight schedules in November and December to support operational reliability and align the holiday schedule with expected staffing and that it’s working to hire approximately 5,000 new employees.
NBC 5 Responds also asked American Airlines about holiday travel. It expects the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after will be the busiest travel days with over 5,500 scheduled departures on those days – approaching pre-pandemic 2019 numbers.
When it comes to covering airlines passenger expenses when a flight is canceled, American Airlines points to its contract of carriage. It says if a disruption is the airlines’ fault, or you’re diverted to another city, it will cover the cost of an approved hotel, if available.
NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and recovering your money. Our goal is to get you answers and, if possible, solutions and a resolution. Call us at 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our customer complaint form.
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