Many Americans have had their travel itinerary for the holiday season planned and their plane tickets reserved months in advance.
But a flight cancellation can send those plans and reservations into a tailspin, which is what happened to one VERIFY viewer and their family a month before their departure date. The viewer wanted to know if airlines can cancel reserved flights so far out, given there can’t be any issues with equipment, weather or flight crews.
Can airlines cancel your reservations months or weeks in advance of your flight?
Yes, airlines can cancel flight reservations months or weeks in advance of departure. Passengers are entitled to refunds in many of these scenarios if they choose not to rebook another flight.
WHAT WE FOUND
Airlines do not guarantee their schedules, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the “contracts of carriage” published on airline websites.
A contract of carriage applies to every commercial airplane ticket, and includes the airline’s policies and the rights passengers maintain; these contracts typically say airline schedules are subject to change without notice.
For example, United’s contract says it can delay, cancel or change a flight on a ticket “at any time.” Delta says the schedules listed on its website and tickets “are not guaranteed” and can be changed if Delta chooses to do so.
The Department of Transportation says all passengers on canceled flights are entitled to a refund, even for non-refundable tickets, should they cancel their trip as a result of the flight cancellation. Airlines may also rebook passengers on the next available flight to their destination for free or offer a voucher for future travel. Accepting either of these offers would take the place of a full refund.
However, airlines are only required to refund passengers for the flight and associated fees. That means an airline does not have to refund passengers for hotels, food vouchers, cab fares or anything else a passenger may have reserved in advance of the trip.
Exactly what airlines will do and what they will offer you in the event of a cancellation depends on the individual airline’s contract and the type of delay or cancellation you face. For example, most airlines provide less support to customers experiencing delays or cancellations caused by factors outside of the airline’s control, like inclement weather.
U.S. federal law does not prohibit airlines from canceling flights whenever for whatever reason, so long as the airline provides passengers with a refund or credit for their tickets, or rebook the passenger.