American Airlines Cancellations: What to Do if Your Flight Was Canceled

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When

American Airlines

announced cancellations of some flights to avoid potentially straining its operations, it sent some fliers into a frantic search for a Plan B to make their early July travel happen.

Consumers planning trips this summer should know how to prepare themselves in case their flight gets canceled.

Airlines will typically offer a new itinerary to ticket holders. At American, an executive said while most customers will still be able to make it to their destinations the same day, some will be moved onto earlier or later flights, or connect over a different hub.

If what the airline you booked is offering doesn’t work for you, you can ask for a refund. “The U.S. Department of Transportation’s longstanding regulation requires carriers to provide passengers with a full refund when a carrier cancels a flight or makes a significant change in a flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept any alternative offered by the carrier,” said Mark Meader, senior vice president, industry affairs and education, for the American Society of Travel Advisors.

The DOT reiterated the rule in an April 2020 enforcement notice, a few weeks after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 as a pandemic.

“Also of note, the DOT maintains that the requirement applies to foreign carriers as well when the flight in question was scheduled to depart from or travel to a point in the United States,” Mr. Meader said.

American Airlines offered refunds as a possibility if the new flights aren’t workable.

Passengers can also try finding alternatives on the airline’s website, and if they can’t change the reservation online, call to change it.

Because travel demand has rebounded faster than many in the industry expected, and because of staffing shortages in airline reservation centers and a big increase in calls with questions about everything from masks to vaccination requirements, “call hold times for the airlines are at near record levels,” said Marc Casto, president of leisure brands in the Americas for

Flight Centre Travel Group,

an Australian travel agency.

If given the opportunity, check nearby airports for better flights, then get the airline to change your route. But keep in mind seat availability will likely be limited due to the unexpectedly sharp rebound in travel. Rental cars might be all booked up too, as the sudden surge in post-vaccination travel has collided with a relative shortage of rental cars.

If you can get a better flight on another airline, ask your original carrier for a refund, which you would be entitled to under federal law. In all cases, a travel agent or adviser can help you navigate. A purchase of a new flight close to your travel day may cost more than what you originally paid.

Travelers checked in at New York’s JFK airport in March, as air travel surges.



Photo:

Angus Mordant/Bloomberg News

American’s cancellations came amid a travel rebound in leisure trips. Major airlines in April reiterated confidence that the leisure travel market was rebounding from the deep losses suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 2.1 million people went through TSA checkpoints on Sunday compared with more than 590,000 around the same time last year, according to the TSA. In 2019, that number totaled more than 2.7 million.

And while driving might get you to where you are going if your flight is canceled, again, keep in mind, rental cars may be hard to come by or more expensive than usual due to demand. “Your Ubers and Lyfts will be through the roof as well,” Mr. Casto said.

If you can drive your own car to your destination, that might be a good option of last resort.

As passengers return to air travel in big numbers, the Federal Aviation Administration has reported an uptick in unruly and dangerous behaviors by travelers. WSJ’s Alison Sider explains. Photo: David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Write to Ray A. Smith at ray.smith@wsj.com

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