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(NEW YORK) — As chaos in the nation’s airports and airspace continues to wreak havoc during the busy summer season, many travelers are left wondering what their rights are during extreme flight delays and cancellations.
Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over Memorial Day weekend and 2,800 flights between June 15 to 17, blaming bad weather and staffing issues across the system. Tens of thousands of flights were delayed during the same periods, causing customers to miss connections and scrambling for alternative flights.
What are your rights?
Under federal law, consumers are entitled to a refund if the airline cancels a flight, regardless of the reason, and the consumer chooses not to travel.
Consumers are also entitled to a refund if an airline “made a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays a flight and the consumer chooses not to travel,” according to the Department of Transportation (DOT).
The hang-up — DOT has not defined what constitutes a “significant delay.” According to the agency, whether you are entitled to a refund depends on multiple factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight and “your particular circumstances.”
In most cases, airlines will first offer you a travel voucher for future travel, Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told ABC News.
“You do not have to click there and accept that travel voucher, because under federal law you’re entitled to a full cash refund,” Keyes said. “You may have to call the airline and demand to get that cash refund rather than the voucher.”
Keyes also said to contact the party you booked your travel with, whether that be the airline itself or a third-party like a travel agency.
“You have to go through whoever you booked your flight with. And so, if you booked it with a third party with an online travel agency, that’s who you’re going to have to chat with,” Keyes said. “The best practice is actually to book directly with the airline if the price is the same. Because when things go wrong, when they’re delays or cancelations, it’s far simpler.”
There are situations, however, where consumers are not entitled to a refund. According to DOT, travelers who purchase nonrefundable tickets, but are unable to travel for a personal reason, such as being sick or late to the airport, are not entitled to a refund.
What if your flight is oversold and you’re denied boarding?
On occasion, airlines may bump passengers from a trip when the flight is oversold. In cases such as this, airlines must first ask passengers to give up their seats voluntarily in exchange for compensation, according to DOT.
There is no limit on the amount of money or vouchers the airline can offer you, and passengers are free to negotiate.
If there aren’t enough volunteers in these situations, airlines can select passengers and involuntarily bump them off the flight. If you’re one of the unlucky few, the airline is required to compensate you in certain situations — including if the passenger had a confirmed reservation, the passenger checked into their flight on time, arrived to the gate on time, and if the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s original arrival.
What if you decide to change your flight?
Consumers should know most U.S. carriers did away with change fees during the pandemic — meaning if you decide to change your flight, you’ll only have to pay the difference in fare.
For those flying this July 4th weekend — Delta Air Lines specifically is waiving all fare differences for travel between July 1 and 4 — meaning customers with flights booked on those dates can change their ticket at no extra cost.
Those customers will not incur any fare difference or change fee if they rebook flights between the same origin and destination and remain in the same cabin of service as originally booked, Delta said. The rebooked travel needs to take place by July 8, 2022.
ABC News’ Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.
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