Immanuel Ike’s Christmas vacation was cut short before he even made it through airport security.
The 29-year-old was scheduled to fly with Southwest Airlines from Chicago to his hometown of Houston on Thursday. The flight had already been delayed for an hour, but just as he entered the terminal at O’Hare International Airport, he received word from the airline that his flight had been cancelled due to a major winter storm moving through the central and eastern United States.
The mechanical engineer contacted the airline, which rebooked him on a Friday flight, and then returned home. The experience left him frustrated and uncertain about the prospects of his new flight.
Ike is not alone in this, as the United States experienced yet another day of significant flight disruptions. According to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, more than 5,000 US flights were cancelled and more than 8,200 more were delayed as of 5:45 p.m. ET Friday, following a high number on Thursday.
By early evening Friday, more than half of all flights from Seattle-Tacoma International and more than 40% of flights from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airports had been cancelled. Southwest Airlines’ schedule has been the most affected, with over 950 flights removed from the schedule for the day.
The storm dumped snow and dangerously cold temperatures on the United States on Friday, prompting airlines to issue waivers in much of the Midwest, Northeast, and even parts of the South for some carriers.
Here’s what you need to know about the services provided by airlines and your rights if your flight is cancelled.
What rights do I have if my flight is delayed or cancelled?
In the event that your flight is cancelled, the Department of Transportation requires all airlines to refund your ticket, even if you purchased a nonrefundable fare.
The rules regarding delays are a little more complicated, and each airline’s policy differs slightly. The DOT has a dashboard where travellers can see what they are entitled to based on their carrier.
Weather-related delays are frequently not compensated for by airlines because they are viewed as being beyond the carrier’s control.
Weather waivers for airlines
Although airlines do not compensate for many weather delays, they do try to give travellers more flexibility in advance of expected severe weather.
Many airlines are giving passengers in many parts of the country the option of rescheduling their flights to travel after the storm passes. Here’s a quick rundown:
Passengers booked on existing tickets to, from, or through parts of the Midwest, Northeast, and along the East Coast through December 25 can extend their travel to as late as December 30 in the Northeast or January 1 in the Midwest and East Coast without incurring change fees. Passengers travelling in parts of the northwest United States through December 25 can also extend their journey until December 28.
Delta Air Lines: The airline has issued multiple waivers for travel in certain regions through December 25. Depending on which airports are included in the original itinerary, passengers may be able to change their ticket to fly as late as December 28 without paying fare differences. Except for basic economy tickets, Delta does not charge change fees.
United Airlines: Through December 25, travellers in much of the country can change their plans as late as December 28 or 30, depending on the region, without paying a change fee or fare difference. The exact dates and locations of waiver applicability vary by region. Those travelling in parts of the central or northwestern United States through December 23 can also extend their trip until December 28.
Southwest Airlines: Many passengers can change their tickets for travel through December 26 in the Rockies, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, Northeast, and parts of the South without paying a fare difference. There are no change fees on the airline.
Spirit Airlines: Passengers travelling to, from, or through many Midwest airports through December 23 and Northeast airports through December 24 can change their flights to Dec. 28 or earlier without paying a fare difference or change fee.
Frontier Airlines: Travelers scheduled to fly to, from, or through certain airports in the Northeast, Midwest, and South through December 24 can change their flight dates without paying a change fee.
Alaska Airlines: The airline is allowing passengers who have flights booked through December 23 in the Midwest and December 25 in the Northeast to change their departure dates to as late as December 29 without paying a change fee or fare difference. Travelers flying through December 23 in Seattle and Portland can also extend their flights until December 28. Passengers with nonrefundable tickets in those timeframes can also cancel their flights and receive credit for future travel.
JetBlue: Many passengers travelling in the Midwest through December 23 or the Northeast through December 24 can change their flights to December 25 or 28 (or sooner) without paying a change fee or fare difference.