6 secret, useful things you can do when an airline screws up your flight

We’ve all been there: at the airline terminal to check in, when we learn our flight has been canceled, or we’ve been bumped from the flight altogether. The airline’s unwillingness to accommodate us overnight, or provide vouchers, or any convenient rescheduling can feel like the universe is literally against us.

That, or an utter diabolical entity is running these airlines.

So, what are our rights as travelers?

Know the rules.


Every airline has a “conditions of carriage” document. They file this with the government, and it includes what compensation, if any, they’ll cover. Once the document is written and filed, they can’t renege on the decisions therein.

Ask to switch airlines.


If your delay is major, like several hours, or your flight is cancelled, try finding a better option on another airline.

(Or just break into a ballet).

If you do find a better flight, ask your current carrier if they’ll “endorse” your ticket over to the new airline. They don’t, by law, have to, but they might if they’re feeling kind.

Ask for vouchers.


Unfortunately, airlines are generally not required to provide food or hotel vouchers. However, many state in their “conditions of carriage” that they will. Pull it up on your smart phone and flash it at them if they balk at your request. Just Google “conditions of carriage” and the airline name.

Get a refund.

If the delay is so bad that you decide to cancel your trip, you have the legal right to a refund. Yep, the document spells it right out. For example, American Airlines states that “in the event the refund is required because of American’s failure to operate on schedule or refusal to transport, the following refund will be made directly to you.”

Got bumped? Get paid.


Airlines often overbook flights expecting that some passengers won’t show up. However, if everyone shows, the gate agents bump whoever doesn’t have a seat. First they’ll ask for volunteers, usually offering some cash or a flight voucher.

If you don’t volunteer but they bump you anyway, they must give you a written notice explaining your rights, and they’ll usually also give you a compensation check.

Stuck on a grounded plane? You have rights.


If a plane sits on the tarmac, unable to take off or pull into a gate, the airline has to take care of their passengers. After two hours, the airline must provide food and water.

After three going-nowhere hours on domestic flights, or four on international, they have to let you out of the plane.

So next time you fly, do your homework. Repeat to yourself: “With airlines, I must be my own advocate.” May you be well-treated.