American says that it’s offering three options if your flight is delayed more than two hours during its labor problems: You can receive a full refund, either of your fare or of any frequent-flier miles you may have used. It will rebook you on another airline, if there’s room. Or you can change your ticket to a future American flight at no charge, meaning that both your change fee and any fare differential will be waived.
The carrier isn’t required to do most of that, at least under federal law. As a matter of policy, when they cancel a flight, most airlines will rebook you at no additional charge on their first flight to your destination with available space. If you’d rather not fly, the airline must refund your ticket or redeposit any miles you used to buy it. But federal regulations don’t require an airline to transfer you to another carrier at its expense, also known as “endorsing” your ticket to another airline.
For most people with plans to travel during the upcoming holiday season, it isn’t a matter of what American will — or should — do. It’s more a matter of what steps they can take now to make sure that their upcoming flight goes smoothly.
“Should I be proactive, or just wait and be reactive in the event that this sick-out actually happens when I’m supposed to fly?” asks Marilyn Daggett, who’s flying from Phoenix to Pittsburgh for a family wedding. “Or am I pretty much relegated to rebooking on a competitor, if I can find a decent price, and eating the original tickets?”
For Daggett, a wait-and-see approach might work, as long as she has enough time to get to the wedding. Business travelers who absolutely must be at their destination by a certain time often take a different tack, booking an expensive, fully refundable ticket as a backup, just in case their actual flight doesn’t leave as scheduled. Then, if they leave as planned, they simply ask for a refund on the second ticket.
Maybe the best way to prepare for a flight on any airline affected by labor problems is to know your rights before you leave. Those are outlined on American Airlines’ Web site and in its terms and conditions, also known as its “contract of carriage,” which can also be found online. An overview of your rights under federal regulations is on the Transportation Department’s Web site.
And if none of those solves your problem, you can always do what Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) did when his American flight to Washington was delayed. He groused about it on Twitter, opening with the observation that “this has not been the best week in American Airlines history.” The online tirade yielded something many passengers say is in short supply when a work stoppage hits an airline: an apology.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at email@example.com.