Have you experienced flight delays and cancellations? Here’s guidance

Traveling these days is like flipping a coin.

Lately, my bar is set really low for my expectations. I’m expecting to be delayed and pleasantly surprised when my travels are actually on time and don’t include running through airports and bracing for canceled flights.

More:Are you entitled to compensation for your travel delays?

This summer, an airline made me rebook to a different city because a delay would make a connection too tight only to have that itinerary strand me in Washington, DC when that flight was canceled. When I wasn’t offered a hotel (because the original flight that I wasn’t on was delayed due to weather and not a mechanical issue), I reluctantly agreed to fly into Boston (not my final destination) and make my friend drive the hour and a half to get me since we didn’t want to ruin our weekend trip.

To add insult to injury, I would have made it to my destination hours earlier if I stayed on the original flight since it was early and the next flight was delayed.

On the way back, I had to scurry through an airport after another delay and gate change from the next gate over to the next concourse. I arrived to a closed door and an agent who said I couldn’t board. But miraculously, another agent happened to open the door and let me in.

But for another trip, my husband and I took a chance on a no-frills airline for cheap tickets for a vacation and we were on time or early for all connections.

Like I said, it’s hit or miss.

I’m not alone.

So far this year, airlines have canceled about 146,000 flights, or 2.6% of all flights, and nearly 1.3 million flights have been delayed, according to tracking service FlightAware. The rate of cancellations is up about 33% from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, and the rate of delays is up nearly 25%.

More:Have unused flight credits from trips? Check expiration dates

Akron reader John Weigand and his wife are scheduled to go on a 50th wedding anniversary trip to Greece this fall and his flights are already getting moved around.

“This change they are offering borders on the absurd. They have booked me on a plane that leaves Cleveland at the same time the plane for the second leg of my flight leaves Toronto. My experience is that should I change my reservation there will be further changes in the flight times so why bother to ‘finalize’ my reservations until it gets closer to take off,” Weigand said.

Weigand said it’s ridiculous that people’s expectations have to be so low.

“When you have expectations like ‘I’m a little hesitant here’ and you luck out, you’re really happy. When your expectations are ‘This is a first-class operation’ and you get poor service, your expectations aren’t met,” he said.

What should you do?

Erika Richter, vice president of marketing and communications for the American Society of Travel Advisors said people should be prepared for travel.

“Passengers should prepare for their flights by making sure they have the mobile app of their airline downloaded. The mobile app is often the most efficient way to navigate schedule changes and customer service, should you encounter a delay,” she said. “If you book your travel arrangements with a professional travel advisor, they’ll navigate everything for you.”

New Department of Transportation dashboard offers guidelines

A new, updated US Department of Transportation dashboard released this month can also help consumers navigate their rights, if a flight has been canceled or delayed.

The dashboard can be found at www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard

There are no hard and fast rules to when an airline is required to give you a meal voucher or a refund for a flight cancellation or delay. That’s been part of the problem.

But the new dashboard outlines for travelers the various requirements for flight disruptions within their control. Delays or cancellations caused by weather or security concerns do not count.

For instance, for travel delays and cancellations, all airlines except Allegiant will provide a meal or voucher if the delay or cancellation results in a passenger waiting for more than three hours.

My travel reporting colleagues at USA Today have had very helpful stories outlining the dashboard.

More:Department of Transportation Consumer dashboard gives guidance on flight delays, cancellations

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told TMZ Live before the dashboard’s debut: “Sometimes the airlines aren’t straightforward with you about the fact that you are entitled to a cash refund. If you don’t get one then you can come back to our department and we will circle back and enforce it and make sure you do.”

One important note from the DOT’s dashboard about refunds: “Remember these commitments do not impact your entitlement to a refund. If an airline cancels a passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight, regardless of the reasonairlines 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.”

The DOT is also seeking public comment on when airlines should be required to refund passengers whose flights are canceled or delayed, USA Today has reported.

“We are also contemplating options for rulemaking that would further expand the rights of airline passengers who experience disruptions,” Buttigieg wrote. “The Department asks that airlines, at a minimum, provide meal vouchers for delays of 3 hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight at an airport because of disruptions within the carrier’s control.”

Richter, from the travel industry group, said the dashboard “is a step in the right direction.

“If your flight is cancelled, the dashboard helps customers navigate information about services offered by each airline to mitigate the inconvenience. The amenities in the dashboard are the services that the airlines have promised to offer should their passengers encounter a controllable cancellation or delay. Controllable = caused by the airline,” she said.

Let’s hope things get better, but as a traveler, I’m bracing for this to be the status-quo or worse.

Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.

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