Secret Flight rules and you

Secret Flight rules and you

Thrillist has one of the more comprehensive wrap-ups of current Federal Airline rules/laws for when you get delayed or your flight canceled. Turns out, you’re entitled to MUCH more than they usually offer. Here’s some of the more surprising ones below.

Getting bumped:

  • If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight because it’s overbooked, do not settle for mostly useless vouchers. The US Department of Transportation DOT requires they must compensate you, in cash, up to $1,350
    • If the delay is going to cost you more than the airline is offering, like a non-refundable hotel reservation or miss a private helicopter ride, you’ve got 30 days to try and get as much money out of them as you can. But once you cash the check they give you, there is no more room to dispute.
  • If you are bumped from a flight and arrive between one and two hours past your original arrival time on a domestic flight (between 1-4 hours on international), they owe you compensation up to $675. For flights more than 2 hours late, you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare.


  • If you book directly with an airline (not through a portal), then you can always cancel within 24 hours of making a flight without penalty. Some allow you to cancel for much longer than that – up until 24 hours before the flight itself in some cases.
  • Do not buy a big block of tickets together if several of you are traveling the same flight. There are different price levels for different batch sized tickets. You might find buying 2 tickets together costs $99/each. But buying 4 together cost $299/each. Buying individually almost always is better.


  • Back in the old days, Rule 240 required airlines to book you on a competitors airline if you were significantly delayed or flight canceled. That ended with deregulation in 1978, but they will still do it if you ask nicely and/or have elite status. The best chance for success is to find 2-3 flights on the internet (do the homework for them) and politely see if they can do anything for you. Options on with the same airline produce best results.
  • If a flight is severely delayed (2+ hours) or canceled, schedule change, or route change – you can get a full refund on a non-refundable fare. They won’t tell you this, but you can. You are also entitled to baggage fees, early boarding fees, premium seats, etc. But be polite, they don’t have to do this by law. Often they’ll give you those perks on the return flight if applicable.

Transfers to another airlines

  • If you get rebooked on a different carrier, they must cover all expenses and extra fees. Some have even used this to upgrade to first class once they transfer over, but your mileage may vary.
  • Do not let them cancel the ticket for your old flight! It’s still good to use another time. They’ll often try and cancel the original ticket onsite and make it appear to be normal procedure. It’s not. Politely ask to be switched but not cancel the existing reservation

European rules

  • If your flight is canceled because of a non-weather related issue, it’s required by law they put you up in a hotel AND feed you. You also must receive a full refund for a canceled flight within 7 days. The EU also has a lit of delay compensation guidelines, ranging from 250 Euros for short flights delayed under 3 hours up to 600 euros for flights between EU and non-EU airports. So, if your flight home to the US is delayed, you’re still entitled to compensation.

Lost Luggage

  • If your bag is delayed or lost, airlines will often placate you with $25-$50/day. DOT says that these companies owe you up to $3,500 in liability for domestic US trips – SO LONG AS YOU HAVE RECEIPTS and can prove the ‘relative value’ of what was in your bag. Example: If you were flying to a wedding with a tux, the bag is delayed and you have to buy another tux for the event – then keep the receipt and file it. If you were skiing and had to buy new gear because of the loss/delay, then do so and submit it. If you can’t prove you had a big need for the item at the time, then you might not get reimbursement. Some folks have gotten whole new wardrobe sets, but you must prove value of what was in the suitcase plus its need on the other side.

Stuck on a plane

  • No airline can keep you on a plane more than 3 hours (domestic) or 4 hours international. After that, they MUST let you off the plane. After 2 hours, they must get food and water carts running.

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