Confused By Airline Rules, Cancellation Policies? Know Your Passenger Rights

airport terminal
airport terminal

Flying somewhere? Best to have as much info as possible should something go wrong (Photo: Thinkstock)

Making sense of all the airlines’ vast (and often conflicting) policies regarding flight cancellations, delays, and overbooking seems to require a law degree and a lot of patience — a tall order for a stressed-out traveler. Now, has found a way to make it easier. The travel site has compiled information from all the major airline policies into one handy-dandy, super-convenient Guide to Air-Passenger Rights.

Related: How to Get Some Wiggle Room on Your Airline Ticket

“Airline service commitments and contracts of carriage can be long and confusing with a lot of legalese,” says founder George Hobica. “So we tried to simplify it to let passengers know what their ‘rights’ are.”

Airfarewatchdog’s guides are comprehensive and extremely easy to read compared to the typical airline policy guide. Here’s what we learned as we went through the Guide to Air-Passenger Rights:

baggage checkin line
baggage checkin line’s Guide to Air-Passenger Rights can help you navigate complicated cancellation and delay policies (Photo: Thinkstock)

ALL AIRLINES ARE DIFFERENT: Many airlines allow you to cancel tickets within 24 hours of purchase for a full refund without a penalty. But others aren’t as generous (Frontier, for instance, allows cancellations only under “certain circumstances” while Allegiant allows them only for “qualified itineraries”). Hobica was surprised how some airlines were far more customer friendly than others. He singles out Alaska Airlines, which automatically gives a flight coupon if there’s a delay.

HIDDEN GEMS: Going through the Guide to Air-Passenger Rights, you might find some rules you didn’t know existed. Many airlines, for instance, have a policy that if the flight is severely delayed and you don’t want to take the flight, you’re entitled to a full refund, even on a non-refundable ticket.

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OUTDATED POLICIES CAN ACTUALLY BENEFIT YOU: Hobica notes that United and Alaska still have language in their contracts that reflect that pre-deregulation relic called “Rule 240,” which stated that if there’s a significant delay or a cancellation, the airline must put you on a competing airline’s flight (if that flight will get you to your destination sooner). That rule went out with disco and many airlines have eliminated it from their books. But it still exists with airlines like United and Alaska. “It’s an important benefit that most people don’t even know how to ask for,” Hobica says.

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airline worker
airline worker

Another reason to arm yourself with as much info as possible: airline employees may also be confused by their airline’s policies (Photo: Thinkstock)

AIRLINE EMPLOYEES ARE NOT ALWAYS EXPERTS: We all know passengers have a hard time making sense of airline rules. But the dirty little secret is your ticket agent might struggle with them too. ”Even many employees don’t know the rules, or they try to ignore them,” Hobica notes. He recommends passengers have a link to his Guide to Air-Passenger Rights bookmarked on their smart phones. Or better yet, save a PDF on your mobile device so you can have it with you at all times, a handy tool if you have to deal with a clueless airline employee.

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