Compensation for Flight Cancellation

by James Andrew Scott

Am I Entitled to Compensation for a Flight Cancellation?

Short Answer:  No.  The airline is not required to compensate you with cash or vouchers when it cancels a flight; rather the airline is required to refund your ticket or put you on the next available flight. Generally, you only receive compensation when you’re involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight.

The Specific Rules:

  • When you’ve been involuntarily bumped on an oversold flight, and the airline offers you a seat on an alternate flight scheduled to arrive no more than 1 hour later than your originally planned time, you are not entitled to compensation.
  • When you’re involuntarily bumped and the airline offers alternate transportation scheduled to arrive more than 1 hour but less than 2 hours later** than your planned arrival time, you are entitled to compensation equal to 200% of the fare to the next stopover*, or if none, to the final ticketed destination. Compensation is capped at $650.
  • When the airline offers alternate transportation scheduled to arrive 2 hours or more later than*** your planned arrival time, you are entitled to compensation equal to 400% of the fare to the the next stopover, or if none, to the final ticketed destination. Compensation is capped at $1,300.

The airline is required to offer to pay you in cash or by check, but is permitted to offer you free or reduced fare air transportation equal to or greater than the value of the compensation due.  The airline is also required to provide you with the written statement below when you’ve been involuntarily bumped.

Notable Exceptions. You are not entitled to compensation when you were denied boarding because:

  • The flight was simply canceled;
  • A smaller aircraft was substituted for safety or operational reasons;
  • On an aircraft having 60 or fewer seats, there are safety-related weight/balance restrictions that limit payload;
  • You are offered a seat in a different section of the aircraft other than specified in your ticket, at no extra charge (a passenger seated in a section for which a lower fare is charged must be given an appropriate refund); or
  • The airline is able to place you on another flight scheduled to arrive within one hour of your originally scheduled time.

*A stopover is defined as a “deliberate interruption of a journey by the passenger, scheduled to exceed 4 hours, at a point between the place of departure and the final destination.”
** More than 1 hours but less than 4 hours for a foreign flight when denied boarding at a U.S. airport.
*** More than 4 hours for a foreign flight when denied boarding at a U.S. airport.

Link to the Federal Regulation

Required Statement:
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Compensation for Denied Boarding

If you have been denied a reserved seat on (name of air carrier), you are probably entitled to monetary compensation. This notice explains the airline’s obligation and the passenger’s rights in the case of an oversold flight, in accordance with regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Volunteers and Boarding Priorities

If a flight is oversold (more passengers hold confirmed reservations than there are seats available), no one may be denied boarding against his or her will until airline personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservation willingly, in exchange for compensation of the airline’s choosing. If there are not enough volunteers, other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with the following boarding priority of (name of air carrier): (In this space the carrier inserts its boarding priority rules or a summary thereof, in a manner to be understandable to the average passenger.)

Compensation for Involuntary Denied Boarding

If you are denied boarding involuntarily, you are entitled to a payment of “denied boarding compensation” from the airline unless:

(1) you have not fully complied with the airline’s ticketing, check-in and reconfirmation requirements, or you are not acceptable for transportation under the airline’s usual rules and practices; or

(2) you are denied boarding because the flight is canceled; or

(3) you are denied boarding because a smaller capacity aircraft was substituted for safety or operational reasons; or

(4) on a flight operated with an aircraft having 60 or fewer seats, you are denied boarding due to safety-related weight/balance restrictions that limit payload; or

(5) you are offered accommodations in a section of the aircraft other than specified in your ticket, at no extra charge (a passenger seated in a section for which a lower fare is charged must be given an appropriate refund); or

(6) the airline is able to place you on another flight or flights that are planned to reach your next stopover or final destination within one hour of the planned arrival time of your original flight.

Amount of Denied Boarding Compensation

Domestic Transportation

Passengers traveling between points within the United States (including the territories and possessions) who are denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight are entitled to: (1) No compensation if the carrier offers alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the passenger’s destination or first stopover not later than one hour after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight; (2) 200% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $650, if the carrier offers alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the passenger’s destination or first stopover more than one hour but less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight; and (3) 400% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,300, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger’s destination or first stopover less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight.
0 to 1 hour arrival delay No compensation.
1 to 2 hour arrival delay 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $650).
Over 2 hours arrival delay 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1,300).

International Transportation

Passengers traveling from the United States to a foreign point who are denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight originating at a U.S. airport are entitled to: (1) No compensation if the carrier offers alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the passenger’s destination or first stopover not later than one hour after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight; (2) 200% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $650, if the carrier offers alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the passenger’s destination or first stopover more than one hour but less than four hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight; and (3) 400% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,300, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger’s destination or first stopover less than four hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original flight.
0 to 1 hour arrival delay No compensation.
1 to 4 hour arrival delay 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $650).
Over 4 hours arrival delay 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1,300).

Alternate Transportation

“Alternate transportation” is air transportation with a confirmed reservation at no additional charge (by any scheduled airline licensed by DOT), or other transportation accepted and used by the passenger in the case of denied boarding.

Method of Payment

Except as provided below, the airline must give each passenger who qualifies for involuntary denied boarding compensation a payment by cash or check for the amount specified above, on the day and at the place the involuntary denied boarding occurs. If the airline arranges alternate transportation for the passenger’s convenience that departs before the payment can be made, the payment shall be sent to the passenger within 24 hours. The air carrier may offer free or discounted transportation in place of the cash payment. In that event, the carrier must disclose all material restrictions on the use of the free or discounted transportation before the passenger decides whether to accept the transportation in lieu of a cash or check payment. The passenger may insist on the cash/check payment or refuse all compensation and bring private legal action.

Passenger’s Options

Acceptance of the compensation may relieve (name of air carrier) from any further liability to the passenger caused by its failure to honor the confirmed reservation. However, the passenger may decline the payment and seek to recover damages in a court of law or in some other manner.