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Delays and cancellations: Know your rights and book wisely

The Federal Aviation Administration says weather is the biggest cause of flight delays. But last summer, most of the delays were man-made, according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. From June to August last year, 8% of delays were caused by airlines and around 5% were attributed to problems with the national aviation system, which includes air traffic control issues. Less than 1% of delays were weather-related, according to BTS data.

The FAA recently took steps to anticipate potential chaos this summer. It allows airlines, including Delta, United and American, to operate fewer flights and instead use larger planes that can accommodate more passengers.

The change will help “mitigate the risk of encountering delays and cancellations,” said Michael McCormick, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a former FAA control tower operator.

The agency also announced 169 new routes along the East Coast that it says are more direct.

But that doesn’t mean things won’t fall apart, and knowing your rights is essential.

Airlines in the United States are not required to compensate travelers for delays and cancellations. But the top 10 carriers will rebook passengers on another flight if the situation was under the airline’s control and pay for meals when travelers have waited three hours or more.

The Department of Transportation tracks delays and sets refund and cancellation policies for controllable circumstances on its airline customer service dashboard.

Airlines may soon be required to offer cash payments, meals and hotel accommodations for carrier-caused slowdowns of three hours or more, if a rule recently proposed by President Biden and the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg takes effect.

Travel advisors recommended considering travel insurance, which typically covers flight delays, and checking credit card policies on refunds in the event of a travel accident. Monitoring airline apps and opting for text updates is also a good idea, they said. And if your flight is delayed, it’s best to stay close to the boarding gate.

If you’ve reached frequent flyer status or purchased premium tickets or priority status, there’s a priority line at the check-in counter, or phone number, where service will be faster, said James Ferrara, the Founder of InteleTravel, a global network group of travel advisors.

Many airlines offer strong and fast customer service via Twitter. But this is not the only way to reach them. Call the airline’s international hotline, which won’t be as busy in a downturn, said Scott Keyes, the founder of Going.com, a website that sends out alerts for travel deals. Delta also has a dedicated traveler hotline with flights in the next 48 hours, Keyes added.

Self-booking online or through the airline’s app has also become easier, experts said.

Mr McCormick advised travelers to have a contingency plan in case there is a flight problem and to select flights “wisely” by assessing your options for connecting flights. He advises avoiding routes that require you to change planes at airports where summer weather such as thunderstorms and hurricanes regularly cause cancellations and delays. “Choose different flights,” he said.

A general rule for summer travel is to book flights departing before 3 p.m., Ferrara said, adding that cancellations and delays tend to happen later in the day. It’s also always an option to stay home on vacation, when cancellations and delays tend to cluster, Mr Ferrara said, or “consider driving”.

If possible, fly nonstop and don’t check a bag, Mr Keyes said.


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