Flight Cancellations & Delays Due to Weather – Your Refund & Compensation Options Due to Hurricanes, Snowstorms & Tornados (2023)
Hurricanes, tornados, snowstorms, and extreme heat are just a few weather-related events that lead to flight cancellations and delays. While experiencing a flight interruption due to poor weather is frustrating, there are a few things you can do.
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What Are My Legal Rights if My Flight is Canceled or Delayed Due to Bad Weather?
Unfortunately, you do not have many legal rights if your flight is delayed or canceled due to an uncontrollable reason like poor weather.
If You Decide Not to Fly
By law, airlines must provide a cash refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you decide not to fly. The reason for the cancellation or significant delay does not matter, so all weather-related events are included. Your airline may offer you a future travel credit or voucher. If so, push for the cash refund since you are legally entitled to it
If You Decide to Book a New Flight
You have very few legal rights if you decide to book a new flight. Unfortunately, poor weather is an uncontrollable reason for delays and cancellations, so airlines treat them differently than controllable reasons. I recommend asking your airline for as much as possible. But remember, there are no laws mandating it to give you anything.
Generally, your airline will book you on its next available flight at no cost for weather-related delays and cancellations. That flight could be many days away or undesirable for other reasons. You have the following options.
- Demand a cash refund if you decide not to fly (by law, your airline must provide it)
- Accept the new flight the airline booked for you
- Demand a different flight from your airline (you may qualify for a weather waiver if your new flight is more expensive) or ask to be booked on a different airline
The good news is many airlines offer weather waivers during severe events like hurricanes and snowstorms. Essentially, a weather waiver lets you change your flight at no additional cost. Depending on the event, you may have the option to fly before or after your original scheduled flight. Here are two major fees that are often waived.
- Change Fees (including basic economy fares)
- Fare Differences
During the pandemic, most airlines eliminated change fees for non-basic economy fares. Usually, weather waivers also include basic economy fares, which means even the cheapest tickets can be changed for free.
Additionally, weather wavers often mean you will not have to pay fare differences. In other words, if you paid $150 for your original flight and the new flight costs $250, you will not be on the hook for the $100 fare difference.
Rules vary by airline and how bad the weather event is. Here are a few things to look for when figuring out if you qualify for a weather waiver.
- Impacted Travel Dates – Your original flight must fall in this range.
- Original Ticket Purchased On or Before – You must have purchased your ticket by this date.
- Impacted Airport or Cities – You must be flying to, from, or through this list of cities.
- Fly by Date – Your new flight must be by this date.
- Your Cabin – Generally, airlines require you to book the same cabin as your original flight.
- City Rule – Generally, your new flight must be between the same cities as your original flight. I have seen exceptions to this rule, however.
See current weather waiver policies for ongoing weather events on these pages.
- Alaska Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- United Airlines
Additional Compensation for Expenses and Time
Unfortunately, airlines guarantee very little in terms of compensation for uncontrollable delays and cancellations. Even for controllable delays and cancellations, no laws mandate additional compensation.
Recently, airlines have committed to certain compensation for controllable delays and cancellations. It depends on the airline, but here are a few examples offered to passengers for controllable reasons (maintenance or crew problems; cabin cleaning; baggage loading; and fueling)
- Rebook passengers on the same airline at no additional cost.
- Rebook passengers on a partner airline at no additional cost.
- Meal voucher.
- Complimentary accommodations/transportation for overnight delays and cancellations
- Travel voucher or credit.
- Frequent flyer miles.
No airlines promise anything from that list for delays and cancellations caused by poor weather because it is uncontrollable. Regardless, ask for everything on that list. Generally, getting rebooked on your airline’s next flight or another flight should not be an issue. Many airlines are also likely to rebook you on one of its partner airlines.
The Vacationer Tip
Compensation like meal vouchers, complimentary accommodations and transportation, and travel credits are harder to come by. Still, ask early and often. If you’re at the airport, ask the gate agent. Contact your airline’s customer service over the phone and through social media. Exhaust all of your options and push for more.
Does Travel Insurance Cover Flight Cancellations & Delays Due to Weather?
Travel insurance often covers trip interruptions, delays, and cancellations due to poor weather. Your coverage varies wildly by company and the weather event. Here are important things to know.
Credit Card Travel Insurance for Bad Weather
Many travel-focused credit cards provide insurance for weather-related flight interruptions. To activate coverage, simply book your flight with your credit card. Here are a few typical benefits.
- Trip interruption and cancellation: Some cards offer up to $20,000 per trip.
- Trip delay reimbursement: Some cards offer up to $500 per ticket.
In most cases, your interruption, cancellation, or delay must be directly caused by the weather. Delays may need to last at least between 6 and 12 hours; It depends on the card. Read your card’s guide to benefits before booking to see what you are entitled to. Here are a few of the top credit cards offering built-in travel insurance.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (my top pick for booking flights)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Non-Credit Card Travel Insurance for Bad Weather
Purchasing a travel insurance policy is also an option to protect yourself against weather-related flight interruptions. Most plans cover interruptions, cancellations, and delays due to severe weather.
As with travel insurance offered by credit cards, purchasing third-party travel insurance has its own rules. Before purchasing, see what is offered and under what conditions.
In most cases, you must purchase your travel insurance plan before a storm is named. Essentially, if the weather event is already known, you cannot purchase new insurance for it.
Some comprehensive plans provide reimbursement if your destination is damaged by a storm as well as your home. Ultimately, if your home is damaged enough that you cannot travel due to having to address the repairs, you may be covered.
Further Reading: The Best Travel Insurance
Other Tips for Dealing With and Avoiding Flight Cancellation & Delays Due to Bad Weather
Here are tips to better position yourself for dealing with and potentially avoiding flight cancellations and delays due to bad weather.
Avoid a Basic Economy Fare, Just in Case
During severe weather events, most airlines waive change fees for all fares, including basic economy. Regardless, I do not recommend banking on that. Additionally, basic economy generally provides minimal flexibility during non-weather-related delays and cancellations. It is the cheapest fare for a reason. Give yourself flexibility and book a seat in the main cabin.
Avoid Flying During Hurricane and Snowstorm Seasons
Do not travel to a destination during its peak bad weather months. For example, avoid flying to Florida from mid-August to late October to avoid hurricanes. Do not fly to Minnesota in the middle of January to avoid snowstorms.
Unfortunately, that only solves part of the problem. You may even want to avoid booking flights when your home airport experiences severe weather. That means Floridians should not fly during hurricane season and Minnesotans should not fly during the peak of winter.
Sometimes, you may just get unlucky. Flying from Philadelphia to Boston in September is usually safe, but there could be issues if the plane comes from Florida and gets significantly delayed.
Monitor Your Flight and Other Flights
It is essential to closely monitor your flight a few days before takeoff. Sign up for email and phone alerts. Additionally, download your airline’s app and turn on notifications. I also recommend following FlightAware for your airline’s overall cancellation and delay status. If interruptions are piling up, you may be in trouble.
If your flight is delayed or canceled due to weather, you need to act quickly. Follow these steps.
- Use Google Flights to Find Alternate Flights
- Contact Your Airline Through Multiple Means (customer service desk if at the airport, email, phone, social media)
- Ask to be Rebooked (inquire about current weather waivers or find this information online)
- Ask for Additional Compensation (you’re not guaranteed anything by law, but ask anyway)
Book Your Flight Directly With the Airline
At times, it is slightly cheaper to book flights with an OTA (online travel agency). Even with the minor discount, it is rarely worth it. Booking a flight with an OTA means you deal with its customer service as opposed to the airlines. The OTA essentially becomes a middleman.
During times of heavy delays and cancellations due to poor weather, time is of the essence. Only so many seats exist on alternate flights, so it is important to find the best alternate flight and get it booked as quickly as possible. Having to deal with the OTA instead of the airline only slows things down.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
Experiencing a significant flight delay or cancellation due to severe weather is no fun, but it is not the end of the world. If you decide not to fly, opt for a cash refund. If you decide to fly, inquire about weather waivers; Such waivers may allow you to avoid both change and fare difference fees.
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