Q: I just finished reading your column on coping with airline delays and cancellations, and was very interested in your last tip: "Know your rights. If you are heading out to a wedding or other scheduled event (such as a meeting or funeral), and you're going to miss it entirely because your outbound flight is canceled or delayed, the airline is required to refund you in full even if you have a nonrefundable ticket. You do not have to take whatever flight the airline gives you."
How can this be? Is it too good to be true? This happened to me several years ago, and I got the short end of the stick from the airline. Can you give more information on this wonderful idea please? Also, could you give me a reference for it that I can present the next time the need arises? Which law or industry agreement does this come from? Are there any other sneaky gotchas or conditions that must be satisfied?
A: You might find this page on the airfarewatchdog.com site interesting:
Here you'll find links to the airlines' contracts of carriage.
Click on the Delta link for example. On Page 48 of this PDF document it reads,
C. Schedule Changes, Delays, & Flight Cancellations within Delta's Control
When, as a result of factors within Delta's control, you miss a connection due to flight delays, your flight is cancelled, or a substitution of equipment results in a change in the class of service that you purchased or prevents us from transporting you, Delta will provide you with the following:
1. Transportation to Your Destination
Delta will transport you to your destination on our next flight on which seats are available in the class of service you originally purchased. At our sole discretion, we may arrange for your travel on another carrier or via ground transportation. If acceptable to you, we will transport you in a lower class of service, in which case you may be entitled to a partial refund as set forth below. If space on the next available flight is available only in a higher class of service than you purchased, we will transport you on the flight, although we reserve the right to upgrade other passengers on the flight according to our upgrade priority policy to make space for you in the class of service you originally purchased.
2. Full or Partial Refund
If some or all of your ticket is unused, you may be entitled to a refund. Any refunds will be made as provided in Rule 260.
Rule 260 reads:
RULE 260: INVOLUNTARY REFUNDS
A) The amount carrier will refund upon surrender of the unused portion of the passenger's tickets:
1) If no portion of the ticket has been used the refund will be an amount equal to the fare paid (editor's note: this applies if you decide not to embark on a "futile journey" from your origin point.)
So as you can see, if for example there is a mechanical cancellation (as happened to me recently) and you decide that your trip will be in vain, Delta will refund your fare. Other airlines have similar policies. You may have to fight to get the refund, and wait, but you are entitled to it. Of course, airlines hope that people won't apply for refunds so they can keep the funds. And as you can see in Rule 240, Delta (and some other airlines) will even put you on a competitor's flight or fly you in first class if that's what it takes to get you to your destination. But you have to ask for this (assuming that you can find a seat on another airline, which is becoming increasingly difficult).