What Airlines Owe You in Case of Flight Issues (and How Travel Insurance Works with Airline Policies)

Major delays at airports are nothing new, but there is an exciting new push for transparency around the rights of airline travelers.

We explore the airline customer-service dashboard, a new tool from the Department of Transportation (DOT) that shows how major airlines deal with flight cancellations and delays, and what travelers are owed in certain cases. We also get into the details about how airline policies for refund and reimbursement work hand-in-hand with travel insurance coverages.

The Airline Customer Service Dashboard

These developments were spurred by growing frustration over airlines’ treatment of travelers when flights are delayed or canceled – especially when delays and cancellations occur for non-weather-related reasons that the airline is responsible for, like staffing or equipment shortages.

The dashboard tries to standardize or at least add transparency to how airlines treat passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled and provides an at-a-glance view of what an airline will or won’t do for you under those circumstances.  

Specifically, the dashboard aims to clearly state what airlines will do for you in terms of:

  • Rebooking you on a different flight, whether one of the airline’s own flights, a partner flight, or a competitor’s flight
  • Paying for food, transportation and lodging during your delay

How it works

Enough talk. Let’s go to transportation.gov and explore the dashboard.

At the top you have the option to look at all carriers in aggregate, to compare airlines side-by-side, or see a single airline at a time. After that, you can see what major domestic airlines will do for you in the event of delays or cancellations.

The dashboard is continually being updated. You can see the date of the latest update near the bottom of the page.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? And that may be one of the issues with the dashboard ­– it’s almost too simple.

Diving into the details

Whether the topic is airlines’ cancellation policies or travel insurance policies, the devil is truly in the details.

The first detail is that this dashboard applies only to “controllable” delays or cancellations.

What’s controllable? According to the DOT, “A controllable flight cancellation or delay is essentially a delay or cancellation caused by the airline. Examples include: maintenance or crew problems; cabin cleaning; baggage loading; and fueling.”

Not weather, in other words.

Airlines don’t get a free pass on weather-related flight issues, however. Further down in its explanation DOT states that, “If an airline cancels a passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight, regardless of the reason, airlines are required to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger, including those with non-refundable tickets, should the passenger choose not to accept the alternative offered, such as rebooking on another flight.”

As usual, there are other details to pay attention to in the fine print.

For instance, when it comes to reimbursement for hotels and transportation in the case of lengthy delays, some airlines say they may pay you back for “reasonable” costs.

Also read: REAL ID and Flying - What You Need to Know

The new policy and travel insurance

While the dashboard and the accompanying attempt at policy standardization is welcome and long overdue, it complicates the relationship between what an airline is responsible for and what travel insurance can reimburse you for.

For instance, there’s overlap between coverage for travel delay and an airline’s pledge to put you up for the night in the case of a lengthy delay.

Because of that, it’s important to note a couple of things.

  • You can’t double-dip. If an airline reimburses you for transportation, you can’t file a claim with a travel insurance company to be reimbursed for transportation, and the airline pays its obligation first. (To that end, keep receipts for everything should you have flight-delay-related expenses. That paper trail is crucial if you want to be reimbursed by the airline or a travel insurance company.)

  • Insurance company Travel Delay coverage isn’t bottomless. Generali’s Premium Plan coverage is capped at $1,000 per person with a daily limit of $300 per person.

  • Don’t expect immediate reimbursement. It may take time for the airline and travel insurance company to straighten everything out.

  • Airlines tend to make clear in their contracts that they are not responsible for consequential damages such as missed hotel reservations, missed tour groups or other losses you might incur as a result of a delayed or canceled flight. With a Generali travel insurance plan, the Trip Interruption coverage can come in handy in this case by reimbursing you for travel costs and/or getting you back on your trip.

Also read: How Travel Insurance Works When You Fly

Want to learn more?

Generali has a page dedicated to helping you find the information you need about each airline’s commitment to providing services like reimbursement and refunds, in addition to a page with tips to help you deal with a canceled flight.

Government standards may come and go, but Generali travel insurance is always here to help you deal with travel’s ups and downs. Get a quote today.

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