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What Are Your Rights When Your Flight Misconnects And It Is The Airline’s Fault?

by on June 16, 2013 · 11 comments

in Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

TPG follower Raj had some flight trouble earlier this week and wanted to know what his options were:

@thepointsguy on a United flight sitting here with maintenance issues. If I miss my connection, what am I entitled to? Just standby?”

In a situation like this in the US, technically nothing is legally owed to you in terms of compensation. In Europe, it is a bit different because airlines are required by law to take care of their passengers more comprehensively than the laws in the US require.

Within the United States the airlines have Contracts of Carriage, which are basically agreements between the airline and you as a passenger. With most airlines, if the delay or cancellation is their fault (even if it’s due to weather) and you misconnect, they will try to get you on the next available flight. However, when there are a ton of people that need to get on that same flight, or flights are full for several days, you can get stuck on a standby list for days with no luck.

Delays can be frustrating, avoid standy by knowing your options.

Delays can be frustrating, avoid standby by knowing your options.

If it is their fault, the airline should put you on the next departing flight to your destination even if it is with a competitor. Putting a passenger on a different carrier and getting them re-ticketed will cost the airline money, so usually the representative will just look to do what is easiest and cheapest for them, and it is much easier to put you on a standby list than search for other available carriers and get you ticketed with them instead.

You are definitely going to have know what is available and what your options are so when you ask the gate agent, you have an exact plan. A cousin of mine recently posted on Facebook that she was stuck waiting at the Dallas airport for hours on end because there was a missing part on the plane. They had her on a standby list, but when I saw her post I told her to ask to be put on an available US Airways flight to Phoenix and gave her the flight number and time of departure. Originally when my cousin asked if should could be ticketed on another carrier the agent said there was nothing available and blew her off, probably not wanting to deal with it. Once she went back to the representative with the available flight information they booked her on it with no problem while the other passengers were stuck waiting in Dallas.

ExperFlyer is a great resource to use to check available flights and routings.

ExpertFlyer is a great resource to use to check available flights and routings.

Doing your own research can definitely help when you get stuck in a situation like this. That’s why I use ExpertFlyer when I’m traveling to check out my routing options just in case. If you find yourself in a situation similar to Raj, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Ask to go to a different airport or to connect through a different city: If you go to the agent with ideas instead of just leaving it up to the airline, your chances of getting on an earlier flight will increase dramatically.

Get help in the club lounge: The customer service representatives in lounges are usually veterans and know how to handle these situations better than some of the front line staff so if you can get access to the club lounge, even if it means paying sometimes, this might be a good option.

Elite status definitely helps: Having elite status or even just having a seat in first or business class can give you better chances of being accommodated by the airline. Some airlines even have better compensation for premium passengers in their contract of carriage.

Basically when an airline has a problem, you are pretty much out there on your own and you have to fight for what you want. As long as you know what you’re fighting for (and ask nicely!) you should be in a much better position to avoid the dreaded standby line. Do any of you have additional advice to avoid being put on standby in a situation like this?

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Jim Miller

    I have no club membership, but twice in the last year they fixed my problem immediately for me. Once it was for a cancelled flight like above. They are great.

  • FlyingDoctorWu

    Nice article. My parents were booked on a US airways award from CLT-SFO-SYD-AKL on a mix of US/UA/NZ metal. En route to SFO I noticed that the SFO SYD leg was posting a four hour delayed which would cause a misconnect with their NZ flight. Rather than have them try to deal with NZ when they got to SYD, I had them go to the Global First lounge at SFO (it was a F award) and told them to ask to be rebooked on SFO-AKL on NZ, which I thought was a long shot. The IFl handled them quickly and did exactly that(albeit in C, but NZ doesn’t have a F cabin). NZ C is excellent and difficult to get and they had a great flight arriving in AKL actually 10 hours earlier than previously scheduled. So yes the club is a great place to start and knowing what your options are is very important.

  • Josebquervo

    United had my flight delayed from Chicago to Boston for 4 hrs due to a mechanical failure on the plane. They gave me 7000 miles as compensation for the delay and 20 percent off a future ticket but never offered to give me a different flight when I asked, even at the united club which Iam a member.

  • Mark the Shark

    Thanks for the Barclay credit card link. It is VERY relevant to this topic. Why is there only one credit card link? Why not a few more?

  • caitlinfinnegan

    I had a mileage run on US Airways cancel in May due to mechanical failure. I think it was PDX-PHL-BOS-PHL-PDX or something like that. I was exhausted from work and just wanted to sleep, so if I could get a credit instead of rebooking. The agent offered a full refund, which I took and went on my way.

  • caitlinfinnegan

    Also, I have no status on US Airways, was doing it for United (Silver/Gold).

  • Bob

    Often time , however, if you’re seated up front, the agent will look to put you in another flight with space up front, skipping earlier flights even if there are seats in coach until a flight with seats up front opens up. You need to tell them that you are ok with the first flight out even if it’s in back.

  • Shawn

    Here, it would be helpful if you could give a bit more solid information.

    You write “If it is their fault, the airline should put you on the next departing flight to your destination even if it is with a competitor.” does this mean the carrier has a legal obligation to do so? Does this hold for any carrier, or only other carriers with which the carrier has an agreement. E.g., American recently refused to put me on a Virgin America flight in this exact situation, and instead rebooked me onto United, even though the Virgin flight was leaving 90 minutes earlier.

    The best would be links to particular portion of rules (DOT, FAA, conditions of carriate?) that inform us of our rights.

  • thepointsguy

    You have no rights really beyond the airline refunding you. Legally the rules in the US are very much in favor of the airline

  • Erica

    I had a problem with a United flight and had asked to be put on a Delta flight with a specific time and flight number. I was told that United didn’t have an interline agreement with Delta, so it was impossible. I understand that they’re not part of the same alliance–so are there certain relationships we should keep in mind when we’re looking for alternatives?

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