What airlines owe customers if flights get canceled or delayed

Amid one of the busiest summer travel seasons U.S. airports have experienced in years, experts say passengers should know their rights when airlines delay or cancel flights.

Under federal law, airlines that cancel flights are required to give cash payouts to customers who decide not to travel, said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“You may have to call the airline and demand to get that cash refund rather than the voucher,” Keyes said.

Customers should also be wary when looking for cash refunds on airlines’ websites, he said.

“An airline might send you an email saying, ‘We’re sorry your flight has been canceled. If you no longer like to travel, click here. We’ve already processed your travel voucher,'” Keyes said. “You do not have to click there and accept that travel voucher.”

MORE: Expert shares grim warning for those planning to travel this summer

According to the Department of Transportation, consumers are entitled to a refund if an airline “made a significant schedule change” or “significantly delays a flight.”

However, if those delays or schedule changes caused travelers to miss hotel check-ins or rental car pick-ups, airlines do not need to pick up the tab for those bills.

Emily Kaufman, founder and CEO of The Travel Mom, said insurance should help cover those expenses.

“During these challenging times, you might choose travel insurance because it covers things like trip delays or cancellations, trip interruption, lost or stolen luggage,” she said. “It really does have a great payoff.”

No matter the situation, major airlines normally don’t charge changing fees, so travelers can adjust their flights for any reason. Yet if a new flight is more expensive, customers must pay the difference.

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