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    What to expect if your flight gets delayed or cancelled
    Posted: 2010-07-19 10:19:59

    It’s summer time, and many of you might be planning on getting on a plane and taking off to some exciting travel destination. But what happens when things don’t go as planned? My Legal Briefcase is going to do a series of posts on traveling and the law you can refer to during the summer months.

    The first topic: What are airlines required to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

    Bad weather is usually associated with the winter, but summertime can be a time of hurricanes and thunderstorms. And if there is a storm, you just might get stuck at home, or even worse, on an airplane waiting for clearance to take off.

    Once upon a time, airlines would give you a meal or pay for your hotel, but is this still the case?

    Let’s look at Air Canada’s policies as an example. According to their policies regarding trip delays and cancellations, they will provide meal vouchers, transportation to and from the airport, as well as hotel accommodations—all subject to availability.

    But the big caveat is that they will only provide these if the delay is Air Canada’s fault. There are many situations that Air Canada has no control over: weather, power outages, acts of God, wars, and riots, as well as airport problems such as traffic congestion, airport construction, or any security-related situations. If any of these situations are applicable, you’re on your own.

    And often, the lines are blurred. Consider a story in the New York Times about Adam Martin who was given a weather excuse when his American Airlines’ flight from Chicago to Washington required a mechanical fix, resulting in delays and ultimately cancellation. But which one was it? Was the weather responsible for the cancellation, or was it a mechanical issue? Well, it was both. His flight was initially delayed because it required a mechanical fix, then it was further delayed by thunderstorms, and ultimately cancelled. Since the cancellation was considered weather related, Martin had to pay for his hotel and all meals.

    It can all be very unclear, but most of the time you can expect that your hotel costs and meals will not be covered by the airline. Their only remaining obligation under their policies is to refund your ticket or put you on another flight. Furthermore, the ambiguous discretionary language they use in their policy terms gives them lots of leeway. This leaves you with little recourse in court when seeking reimbursement for out of pocket expenses. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the airline to cover your costs. You never know when they’ll make an exception, and depart from their policies.

    Photo by danielito/

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