If an airline cancels your flight, are they required to find you an equivalent flight on another airline? The answer takes us into an expansive gray area the airlines depend on to protect their bottom lines.
The process of one airline using your fare to secure a seat for you on another airline in the event of a canceled flight is called endorsing. In effect, your carrier is signing over your ticket to be used by another airline.
No airline likes giving away business. As Tim Winship observes, “If an airline endorses a ticket over to another carrier, they have to pay that carrier to fly the passenger, sometimes more than the traveler paid for his ticket.”
Passengers with unrestricted tickets are in the best position in such cases, since part of the reason they’re so expensive is because they are endorsable. However, unrestricted tickets are likely being used by less than 10 percent of the passengers on any flight, most of them business travelers.
Canceled flights put the vast majority of passengers, those with less expensive restricted tickets, in a nearly impossible position: Either pay the often-inflated price of a last-minute ticket on another airline, or wait for the airline—which often is trying to find alternative arrangements for thousands of passengers—to find another flight for you. Money or time: Either way, you’re working at a loss.
While some airlines stipulate that in special circumstances they may reroute you on another airline, the bad news is this rarely happens. Airlines will more likely help you with accommodations or offer coupons for future travel than send you off on another airline.
However, in some cases, airlines will find you another flight, so it’s always worth asking. According to Winship, gate agents do have the discretion to find alternate arrangements, so it can’t hurt to ask nicely and diplomatically.
Since you can’t count on getting a flight on an alternate carrier in the event your flight is canceled, it’s a good idea, especially in circumstances where weather or mass cancellations raise the risk, to check the status of your flight before you leave for the airport. Though you can check online, you’re likely to get the most up-to-date flight status by calling a reservations agent. That way, you can find out exactly what accommodations the airline will make for you and save yourself the trip to the airport.
And if you are at the airport when you find out your flight has been canceled, skip the long line at the gate and get on the phone with a reservations agent instead. Winship says, “Since flights are rebooked on a first-come, first-served basis, reserving a new seat fast makes a difference.”
For more information on flight cancellations and how you can protect yourself, check out my blog from Thursday.