What to Do When Your Plane Is Diverted — Including How to Claim Compensation

Here's what happens when your plane is diverted — and how to handle the situation — according to experts.

<p>Tobias Titz/Getty Images</p>

Tobias Titz/Getty Images

You’re on a flight, and everything is going smoothly. Then, there’s an announcement that the plane is being diverted and will be landing at an airport that’s not your final destination. Now what?

A diverted flight is simply one that lands at an airport that wasn’t the intended destination.

Plane diversions — whether due to weather, mechanical issues, medical emergencies, or even unruly passengers — aren’t common, but they do happen. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 0.24 percent of flights were diverted in 2023.

<p>Margot Cavin/Travel + Leisure</p>

Margot Cavin/Travel + Leisure

What to Know If Your Plane Is Diverted

If your flight is diverted, it’s important to stay calm and pay attention to announcements and information provided by the crew. Once you land, there are a couple of scenarios that could occur, depending on why your plane was diverted in the first place.

First, the problem could be fixed and you may continue on to your destination on the same plane, with only minor delays. Alternatively, the diverted flight could be canceled. In that situation, the airline will most likely put you on the next available flight. Unfortunately, that flight may be the following day, resulting in an overnight delay. When that happens, it’s good to be proactive.

“Know backup flight options, and communicate with the airline over social media or text message as soon as you know what you want to do so you can grab any spare seats before other passengers do,“ says James Larounis, founder of The Forward Cabin and senior content contributor at Upgraded Points.

“For example, I was recently on a flight from Chicago to Washington Reagan, where we diverted to Raleigh due to severe weather in D.C. Luckily for me, there are many flights between Raleigh and D.C., and even though the airline scheduled me for an afternoon flight the next day, there were earlier options to get me back home.”

Compensation Eligibility If Your Plane Is Diverted

Until recently, if you were flying domestically and your plane was diverted, the airline wasn’t required to compensate you.

However, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced new, customer-friendly rules on April 24, 2024. Now, passengers are entitled to a cash refund if their flight is canceled or significantly changed, as long as they don’t accept any transportation or travel credits. According to the DOT, “significant changes” include any of the following:

  • Departure or arrival times that are more than three hours domestically and six hours internationally

  • Departures or arrivals from a different airport

  • An increased number of connections

  • Downgrades to a lower class of service

  • Connections at different airports or flights on different planes that are less accessible or accommodating for passengers with a disability

While not required by the federal government, many airlines have policies in place to cover additional expenses, including food, overnight accommodations, and transportation for stranded customers in situations with delays and cancellations that are within the airline’s control.

Related: What to Do If You Miss Your Connecting Flight — Including How to Get Compensated

<p>Prasert Krainukul/Getty Images</p>

Prasert Krainukul/Getty Images

All 10 major U.S. airlines (Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United) have committed to rebooking passengers on the same airline at no additional cost and will provide meal vouchers when a cancellation results in a wait of more than three hours.

All but one of these airlines — Frontier — will cover the cost of overnight accommodations when a passenger is stranded overnight.

If you’re in a situation where your plane was diverted, and the airline staff at the airport isn’t offering meal or hotel vouchers, save your receipts from these expenses and submit them after the trip. While not required, many airlines will reimburse expenses like these.

“If a [Southwest] flight is diverted and unable to reach its destination, Southwest will work to provide lodging and vouchers to customers. If those are not provided, customers may submit reasonable reimbursement requests for out-of-pocket expenses,” a representative from Southwest Airlines shared in a statement provided to Travel + Leisure via email.

American is another airline that commits to reimbursing reasonable expenses resulting from a diversion that's in their control. According to the airline’s website, if your flight was diverted and you don’t board another one to your final destination before 11:59 p.m., the airline will provide a hotel voucher, transportation to and from the hotel, and meal vouchers (if you are in the diverted city for more than three hours.) If these aren’t provided, customers can request reimbursement for reasonable costs.

Plane Diversion Compensation Outside the U.S.

The rules regarding passenger compensation are different if you’re flying within the European Union, flying to the E.U. on an E.U. airline, or flying from the E.U. on any airline.

In these instances, passengers are entitled to reimbursement or rerouting based on regulation EU261.

Related: You Might Be Entitled to Compensation If Your Bag Is Delayed — What to Know

Travel Insurance

Will travel insurance, whether via a purchased policy or an option through your credit card, cover expenses if your plane is diverted? It depends, but generally, the answer is yes.

According to Larounis, it’s smart to consider your credit card insurance policy for unreimbursed expenses. “If your airline doesn’t cover the hotel, you’ll want to use a trip delay or cancellation insurance with your credit card to pick up the tab,“ he told T+L.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card comes with a reimbursement policy that kicks in after a trip on a common carrier (like an airplane) is delayed six hours or requires an overnight stay. The cardholder and immediate family members are entitled to reimbursement up to $500 per ticket for expenses like a hotel and meals.

If you’re in a situation where your plane is diverted and the airline isn't offering hotel, meal, or transportation vouchers, save all receipts from any expenses you incur. Once you’re home, you can request reimbursement from the airline first. If you don’t get a response, you can then turn to your travel insurance policy.

Tips to Handle a Diversion Like a Pro

  • Pack all the essentials you might need if your flight is delayed or diverted, including medications, chargers, and baby supplies, plus items for an unexpected overnight stay, like a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Be sure to stash these things in your carry-on bag, not checked luggage.

  • If there are long lines at the airport customer service desk, try changing your flight via phone, the airline’s mobile app, or social media accounts (sending a DM to the airline’s customer service team via X is a great place to start).

  • If accommodations, transportation, and meals aren’t provided by the airline, save all of your receipts for expenses incurred so you can submit them for reimbursement once you arrive at your destination.

  • Always book your flights with a credit card that offers travel protection. Credit card insurance policies can be quite robust, often eliminating the need for a separate policy. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, Capital One Venture X, and Amex Platinum cards are all excellent options.

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