Five myths about flying: You have fewer rights than you think

USA TODAY - Delays and cancellations are the bane of airline passengers. But unless you’re up to speed on airline rules and regulations, you may well have an outdated idea of what you’re entitled to when you fail to make a connection or your flight isn’t leaving the gate anytime soon. Here are five myths about flying that might help.

1. You’ll receive compensation if your flight is canceled because of bad weather.

If your flight is delayed or canceled due to a mechanical issue, an absent crew or another issue within the airline's control, you can expect overnight accommodations, meals and possibly additional compensation. But when it’s nature’s fault and the delay is weather-related, you're almost surely out of luck.

“Airlines may make exceptions for some elite members, but they aren't obligated to offer anything at all if Mother Nature's responsible for your delay,” says Zach Honig, editor in chief of The Points Guy. “They will waive change fees if a weather waiver is issued, however, in which case you can move to another flight for free, even if your original flight operates as scheduled.”

That’s about as good as it gets. If you want to try and push it a bit further, Chris McGinnis of Travelskills.com says that “you can ask for a full refund if you decide that you'd rather not accept the alternatives offered by the airline and nix the trip entirely.”

2. If your flight is canceled for any reason, the airline will automatically book you on the next available flight, even on a competitor airline.

Ah, those were the days.

“Sadly, that’s not true,” says Johnny Jet of johnnyjet.com. “It used to be much easier to get put on a different airline but recent agreements have changed much of it. You do have a chance to get on a partner airline but it’s not always that simple.”

And it gets worse.

“Getting on another carrier is next to impossible if you are flying the new breed of ultra-low-cost carriers,” says McGinnis of TravelSkills.com “Lack of alternatives is part of the price you pay for that cheap ticket.”

Even when the ticket isn’t quite so cheap, getting on another carrier may well be impossible. So add Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Virgin America to the list or airlines that make it hard to switch to another carrier. Some airlines do re-book their top-tier elite members, reason enough to go after that coveted status, but even then it's never a guarantee.

“Over the summer I was flying from Oslo to Seattle on United, via Newark and San Francisco,” says Honig of The Points Guy. “My flight to Newark was delayed, so I called United and asked if I could be accommodated on a Delta flight from Amsterdam to Seattle. Fortunately, the agent was able to make that happen, so it can be worth making the request.”

3. If you miss your flight, you will be booked on the next one out.

It all goes back to a lesson you probably learned in kindergarten: It’s not all about you. An airline will not inconvenience other passengers just because you missed your flight.

“If an airline decides to accommodate you because you're responsible for a missed flight or connection, you'll likely be traveling standby,” says Honig of The Points Guy. “In which case you'll only get on the next flight if there's an empty seat after boarding is complete.”

Of course, “next flight” is a relative term. Flights are typically going out full these days, so it's less likely that you'll actually get on the next flight out, adds McGinnis of Travelskills.com.

“It could be a few hours during the slower midweek, but if this happens on a Friday or Sunday, your wait could extend overnight,” he says. “And you'll be responsible for your hotel, meals and transport.”

On the other hand, you could make a case for yourself and “if you just missed your flight by a few minutes with a good excuse like a ‘flat tire,’ then they should do it,” says Johnny Jet. “But it’s better to leave and show up extra early to be safe.”

4. When an airline books you with 30 minutes to make a connection between flights, you shouldn’t worry because they know their schedules better than anyone.

If you’ve been given a 30-minute connection time by the airline or an online travel agency, the sage advice is to not accept it and to change it immediately, even if it means hanging around a connecting airport longer. The sprawl of many domestic airports can make a 30-minute connection seem ludicrous, especially if you have to change gate areas or, even worse, terminals.

“It’s what's often referred to as a ‘risky connection,’” says Honig of The Points Guy. "While you'll likely make it on the next flight if you arrive at the connecting airport early or on time, even a 10-minute delay can make connecting impossible.”

Of course, it might not matter if you’re one of those rare fliers with top-tier elite status.

“Some airlines will drive their top customers from one plane to another under special circumstances,” Honig says, but that’s in the rarest of cases. “You'll typically be on your own to make the connection, and you'll need to request alternative accommodation if you don't make the next flight.”

5. You are more likely to be upgraded if you ask at check-in or at the gate.

Years ago, it may have been possible to get an upgrade to first class just by dressing up and being polite, but that's almost never the case anymore.

“The days of ‘free’ upgrades for the asking are long gone,” says McGinnis of TravelSkills. “If you have status with an airline, you'll automatically be put on a list for an upgrade. If you don't have status, just asking rarely works. Instead of asking for a free upgrade, ask ‘how much would it cost for me to upgrade’ and you might be surprised at the answer.”

Copyright 2017 USA TODAY


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