This blog post was updated on May 6, 2020.

Tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms… hold onto your hats—you’re in for a flight cancellation! If you’re worried about a formidable forecast affecting your upcoming flight, then you’re not alone. Flight cancellations due to weather are no jog in the park and the confusion sets in right from the start. Will you be able to get on the next flight? What about the costs? Are you covered for the time you’ll be waiting in the airport or aircraft?

PAUSE! Before you hit the panic button, you should know that you’ve got options. The key is to be prepared so you can take the right steps to get to your destination ASAP (and hopefully without burning a hole in your wallet). Read on to learn everything you need to know about what happens if your flight is canceled due to weather conditions.

Know Before You Go

We know, we know. You got the lowest airfare possible and have one foot out the door, ready to embark on your trip. But, have you taken the most important step for your journey? Flying is not an easy endeavor, so the more you know before you go, the easier it will be to find your way out of any issues that may arise with your flight (ie: weather delays and cancellations). Here are a few things you should do some due diligence on, ahead of your trip:

Contract of Carriage

Before you go delving into the ins and outs of an airline’s specific contract of carriage, let’s start from the bottom, shall we? A Contract of Carriage, by definition, is simply a contract between a passenger and the carrier. Contracts specific to airline carriers serve as a defined set of rights, responsibilities and the liabilities of both the passengers and the airline. While many of the basics are the same, each airline has their own contract and the specifics of what is and isn’t covered or how the airline handles delays and cancellations varies from carrier to carrier. So, although the exact outcome of a flight delay or cancellation depends on the immediate situation if you’re wondering what happens if a flight is canceled due to weather conditions, you’ll find many of the essential answers to your questions outlined in the airline’s Contract of Carriage. To get started, here’s a handy-dandy list of links to major U.S. and international airline contracts compiled by Airfarewatchdog.

Rights as a Passenger

Even before you book your flights, it’s imperative that you know your rights! You can scream, yell and demand compensation from airline employees all you want – but chances are you won’t get too far if your situation doesn’t fall into one that warrants coverage.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s consumer rules, if an aircraft is delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours (domestic) or four hours (international), the U.S. airline operating the flight is required to allow passengers to deplane.
  • Onboard the aircraft, airlines are required to provide travelers with adequate food and drinking water within two hours of the delay.
  • If you choose to cancel your trip entirely after a flight cancellation, you’re entitled to a refund, but only for the unused transportation. Any extra fees you paid for baggage, seat assignments, etc. for this flight will also likely be refundable. The most important thing to remember here, however, is that no two airlines are the same and neither are their refunds. Compensation can come in many shapes and sizes, such as flight vouchers, miles, upgrades or airline credit to use onboard your next flight—so, it’s not always your money back!

Travel Insurance

So… what happens if your flight is canceled due to weather… and your hopes for compensation from the airlines are looking dim? Turn to your travel insurance.

As a reminder, once a storm is named, you can no longer purchase travel insurance to protect your flight against it. If you’re headed out of town or headed to a destination at a time of year prone to inclement weather, consider investing in travel insurance. In the case of weather-related cancellations, chances are that there will be at least some type of coverage for your flight. Many travel insurance plans that include trip cancellation/ interruption coverage will offer to cover some of your expenses that were lost as a result of canceling or ending a trip prematurely due to severe weather conditions. That being said, whether it’s reimbursement, hotel stays or replacement flights, be sure to check your insurance policy at the time of purchase and connect with your travel insurance company before you set out. Know your insurance plan in and out and ask all of your questions from the get-go, so you’re not left with a paid policy that won’t pay you anything back!

What to Do If Your Flight is Canceled Due to Weather Conditions

Connect with Your Airline

First thing’s first, get in touch with your airline. No, we don’t mean make your way to the airline representative at the gate or a flight attendant and start your own storm of screams and slurs. A weather-related cancellation means there is going to be quite a frenzy of people trying to figure out how to get to their desired destinations. Call your airline directly or try and reach them online. Not only will you be maximizing your means of communication, but you can also reach them quicker than by waiting in line. Hopefully, you reach an employee that may not be having as terrible of a shift and can help you figure out how to change your flight and confirm that your return flight is still confirmed— all before you move an inch in line at the airport. Skip the line, whip out your phone and use this list of airline phone numbers to beat the masses when you call! The levels of coverage will vary from airline to airline, ranging from a hotel stay, food vouchers, a replacement ticket, a refund…or none of the above. Have your flight and confirmation number on hand when you call or check the website to check on the status of your cancellation.

Sign Up for Flight Alerts

Airlines are required by law to alert their passengers of delays, cancellations or schedule changes within thirty minutes of the alteration. While the airline will often notify you via email and will have the changes posted on their website and on the displays in the airport, one of the best ways to be vigilant about your flight is to download the airline app and/or sign-up for text message alerts. By downloading their app, you’ll have a plethora of options regarding alerts and updates from your airline. Once you’ve confirmed that your flight is canceled, logging onto your airlines’ app (or to your account with them online) you can quickly find out if you’ve already been booked onto another flight. If you’re someone who worries themselves sick while waiting for airline websites to load and update their flight information, apps such as Next Flight and Flight Aware are the answers to your anxieties. These apps offer real-time flight tracking so you’re in know and ready for what happens when your flight is canceled due to weather!

Turn to Social Media for Communication

In the age of social media, it’s hard not to have your finger on the pulse of a situation. By following your airline on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you can connect to your flight carrier quickly and follow the airline’s live updates (in fact, many airlines now offer notifications via Twitter). Airlines are speedy responders on social media, especially because it’s a public forum and they’d like to be viewed as responsive and fair by current and potential clients.

Go to Your Airline’s Lounge

If you’re away from home and have already gone through airport security before learning your flight is canceled due to weather, head to your airline’s lounge. Most passengers will be pressing the gate agents for help, but lounge agents can help you just as well (if not better) and there will be a shorter line. And worst case scenario: you can shell out for a day pass and wait comfortably.

Be Ahead of the Game

If your flight is already canceled, you know you’re in for quite the ride in trying to figure out what to do next. Stay ahead of the curve for your next flight and make sure you thoroughly read the terms and conditions of your ticket so you can take precautionary measures before the next time your hit with weather delays and cancellations. For the next time you’re traveling in the midst of inclement weather and you see expected delays (and before you get to point where your stuck dumbstruck at the airport with a canceled flight), check with your airline and see if they are offering free rebookings in advance.

Have more questions about what happens when your flight is delayed due to weather? Ask away in the comments below!

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About The Author

In a past life, Tasmiah was either a Bollywood actress, renowned ethnographer or master chef; no questions asked. In this one, she is a shower-singing, croissant enthusiast, who also writes content for Fareportal, in that order.