Which airlines are offering flight waivers & how do they work?

Flight canceled? Experts share some advice about what to do

A passenger check flight departure schedules, some showing cancellations, at the Delta terminal at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) (Bebeto Matthews, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Thousands of travelers were stranded at airports or stuck on hold trying to rebook flights this week as a massive storm snarled travel in the U.S. and Canada ahead of the holidays.

With the snow, rain, ice, wind and frigid temperatures disrupting air travel plans nationwide, United, Southwest, American, Delta and JetBlue are the five major airlines offering flyers a little extra cushion this holiday weekend.

But how does each airline’s system work?

Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline executive, said travelers should read the fine print carefully. If you book a return flight outside the window that the airline sets, you may have to pay for the difference in fares, for example.

United

United Airlines will waive change fees and fare differences for passengers traveling through the East Coast, Texas, Central and Northwest, and the Midwest.

Passengers have until Dec. 28, 2022, to rebook.

Policy: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/notices.html#waiver1 

Southwest

Southwest Airlines is offering winter weather waiver codes for all travelers until Dec. 26, 2022.

Flights must be rebooked within 14 days of the original travel dates.

Policy: https://www.southwest.com/html/historical-waiver/ 

American

American Airlines passengers traveling through the Northeast region are eligible for change fee waivers.

Passengers must have purchased their tickets by Dec. 19, 2022, and all changes must be made by Saturday night.

Policy: https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/travel-alerts.jsp 

Delta

Delta Airlines issued travel advisories for the Atlantic, Northeast, Northwest, and Pacific Northwest regions of the country.

Atlantic and Northeast travelers have until Dec. 27, 2022, to rebook or make changes.

Northwest Travelers have until Dec. 26, 2022, and Pacific Northwest travelers have until Christmas Day.

Policy: https://www.delta.com/us/en/advisories/weather-alerts/atlantic-region-and-northeast-severe-weather 

JetBlue

JetBlue has a winter weather fee waiver for Northeast and Midwest travelers.

Passengers also have until Christmas Day to rebook flights.

Policy: https://www.jetblue.com/travel-alerts#midwest-winter-weather-fee-waiver 

Airlines say one of the best things travelers can do is download their app for information. This way you will stay up to date about any possible delays, cancellations, or any additional travel options.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 4,800 flights into or out of U.S. airports had been canceled, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware.

RELATED: Winter storm woes causing headaches for holiday travelers

Staying calm -- and knowing your rights -- can go a long way if your flight is canceled, experts say. Here’s some of their advice for dealing with a flight cancellation:

MY FLIGHT WAS CANCELED. WHAT NEXT?

If you still want to get to your destination, most airlines will rebook you for free on the next available flight as long as it has seats, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If you want to cancel the trip, you are entitled to a full refund, even if you bought non-refundable tickets. You’re also entitled to a refund of any bag fees, seat upgrades or other extras.

Ebenhoch stressed that travelers are eligible for a refund, not just vouchers for future travel. If you do take a voucher, make sure you inquire about blackout dates and other restrictions on its use.

CAN I ASK TO BE BOOKED ON ANOTHER AIRLINE’S FLIGHT?

Yes. Airlines aren’t required to put you on another airline’s flight, but they can, and sometimes do, according to the DOT. Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, recommends researching alternate flights while you’re waiting to talk to an agent. Agents are typically under a lot of pressure when a flight is canceled, so giving them some options helps.

Ebenhoch also suggests looking for alternative airports that are close to your original destination.

IS THE AIRLINE REQUIRED TO GIVE ME A HOTEL ROOM, OR OTHER COMPENSATION?

No. Each airline has its own policies about providing for customers whose flights are canceled, according to the DOT. But many airlines do offer accommodations, so you should check with their staff.

I’M FACING A LONG WAIT TO REBOOK. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

If someone in your traveling party is at a higher level in a frequent flier program, use the number reserved for that level to call the airline, Ebenhoch said. You can also try calling an international help desk for the airline, since those agents have the ability to make changes.

HOW CAN I AVOID THIS IN THE FUTURE?

Ebenhoch said nonstop flights and morning flights are generally the most reliable if you can book them. If you’re worried about making it to the airport in time for a morning flight, he said, consider staying at a hotel connected to the airport the night before. And consider flying outside of busy dates; this year, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration is expecting big crowds on Dec. 30, for example.

Klee recommends comparing airlines’ policies on the DOT’s service dashboard: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard. He also suggests reserving multiple flights and then canceling the ones you don’t use, as long as the airline will refund your money or convert it into a credit for a future flight.


About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.