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Candice Choi

When it comes to weather-related flight cancellations, airlines are off the hook

By Candice Choi
Associated Press / August 31, 2011

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What rights do you have when your flight is canceled or delayed? After airlines scrapped ore than 11,000 flights because of Irene, that’s a question facing hundreds of thousands of stranded fliers. Here’s what you need to know about your (limited) rights:

Cancellations If your flight is canceled, you can request a full cash refund. This may be a better option than a voucher, which locks you into flying with a particular airline, notes Tom Parsons of BestFares.com.

But if you absolutely need to get to your destination (or if you’re going home), it’s usually a better option to keep working with the airline to get onto another flight. Buying a last-minute, one-way flight on your own, even counting your refund, could end up costing far more than you originally paid.

As for lodging, airlines are required to get you accommodations if a flight is canceled because of a mechanical failure or other hiccup they could have prevented, said Rick Seaney, of FareCompare.com.

If the cancellation is the result of uncontrollable conditions, such a hurricane, tornado, or other severe weather, you’re on your own.

“When there’s bad weather, airlines are pretty much off the hook,’’ Seaney said.

Delays If your flight is delayed because of weather, you won’t have the option of getting your cash back. But a big carrier may be able to get you onto another flight that is not delayed. The fee for changing flights may be waived in extraordinary circumstances, such as a hurricane.

There are fines for a certain type of delay. Airlines must pay federal authorities when they hold domestic flights on the tarmac for more than three hours and, starting last week, when they hold international flights for more than four hours. But passengers don’t see a cut of the fines, in either case.

Bumps A rule that went into effect last week increases the compensation airlines must give passengers who are involuntarily bumped from a flight.

The compensation is now up to $1,300. The previous compensation was up to $800.

Changes You have the right to cancel any air travel for up to 24 hours after buying a ticket.

After that, most airlines charge a $150 fee to make changes.

Of course, you will also pay the difference in cost between the old and new flights.

(If the price difference is in your favor, make sure it’s more than $150, or you’ll end up out of pocket for changing your plans.)

Candice Choi writes for the Associated Press.