If your flight gets canceled, you’ll most likely automatically be booked on the next available flight.

If that doesn’t happen, you’re entitled to compensation from the airline.

In the U.S., airlines are required to only compensate you for the cost of your ticket. But in the E.U., airlines are also required to compensate you for airport services, like food. 

While it’s impossible to completely avoid flight cancellations, there are a few ways you can reduce your chances of having to deal with the stress of a canceled flight.

4 Things to Do If Your Flight is Canceled

When your flight gets canceled, more often than not, the airline will automatically rebook you onto another flight.

But if that doesn’t happen, you should do the following: 

1. Talk to an Agent

If the airline doesn’t automatically book you onto a new flight, an agent is the first person you should speak to.

Inform them that your flight was canceled and ask what the next steps are.

2. Ask for a Refund

If the airline cancels your flights or gets significantly delayed, defined on a case-by-case basis, forcing you to alter your travel plans, you’re entitled to a full refund.

Actually getting this refund may be a frustrating and time-consuming process, especially if the airline attempts to offer you a voucher instead.

But getting a full refund is better, since vouchers often have limits, like an expiration date. 

3. Review your Airline’s Cancellation Policy 

As cancellation policies vary from airline to airline, go to your airline’s website to learn more about their specific policy.

Their cancellation policy will outline in which circumstances the airline compensates passengers for canceled flights, in addition to how much that compensation will be. 

4. Talk to Your Travel Insurance Company

If you’ve purchased travel insurance, speak to your travel insurance provider.

They usually provide additional cover for travel uncertainty.

Most providers apply coverage if your flight is delayed by more than 12 hours due to weather or mechanical issues. 

What Happens If Your Flight is Canceled

Most airlines automatically rebook you on their next flight to the same destination for free.

If you’re forced to cancel your trip because of the flight cancellation, you’re entitled to compensation for both the cost of the ticket and any additional fees you paid for your bags, but that is it.

If the airline doesn’t have available seats to the same destination, they may offer you a voucher instead.

If the airline refuses compensation for a canceled flight, you can complain through official avenues.

You Are Entitled to a Refund

Federal law entitles you to a full cash refund if your airline cancels or “significantly” delays your flight.

This is the case even for non-refundable tickets.

You’re also entitled to a refund whether the cancellation was caused by bad weather or other events outside an airline’s control.

Of course, if you accept a cash refund from the airline, they’ll no longer be obligated to automatically book you on the next available flight. 

Sometimes the Airline Will Pay For Your Hotel

Airlines are not required to pay for a hotel if your flight is canceled.

Some airlines may provide this service, but they’re not legally obligated to.

You’ll should ask airline staff if they pay hotel expenses for passengers with canceled flights. 

As Well as Food and Other Costs

Airlines are not legally obligated to pay for food or other costs associated with canceled flights.

They may still provide this service, but are not legally obligated to.

You should ask airline staff to confirm whether they provide this. 

U.S. vs. Europe Flight Cancellation Rights

EU Laws

Under E.U. laws (EU261), you can choose between reimbursement or re-routing if your flight gets canceled, and you’re informed within 14 days of the scheduled departure date.

The airline must prove the date and time you were informed of the cancellation.

The airline is also required to either provide you with assistance at the airport, including food and refreshments, or reimburse your food expenses at the airport. 

Airlines might not be required to provide compensation if the cancellation was due to extraordinary events, like political instability. 

US Laws

Airlines are required to compensate passengers whose flights have been canceled.

The airline must rebook you on another flight or provide a full cash refund.

Unlike E.U. laws, U.S. laws don’t require airlines to provide assistance at the airport or offer other compensation. 

How to Avoid Flight Cancellations

It’s impossible to completely avoid flight cancellations, as any flight can be canceled.

But you can use the following tips to minimize your chances of travel disruption. 

1. Consider an alternate airport

Flights at smaller and less important airports are less likely to be canceled since they have less air traffic.

2. Fly in the morning 

Flight cancellations are less likely to occur on morning flights.

3. Avoid weekend travel

Air traffic is lower during the weekdays than on the weekends.

So flying during lower traffic times reduces the chances of your flight being canceled. 

4. Opt for longer layovers

If you book flights with longer layovers, you’ll be more likely to reach your connecting flight if your first flight gets delayed. 

How You Will Know If Your Flight is Canceled

Your airline will inform you via email or SMS if your flight is canceled.

Assuming you do not receive this information, you’ll receive news of the cancellation at the airport.

You can also check your flight status with online trackers. 

What to Do If Your Flight is Delayed

The best thing to do if your flight is delayed, and it affects your travel plans, is to contact the airline and find out if they can put you on an alternative flight.

Some airlines may require a fee to transfer you to a different flight, while others will do it for free. 

You should also ask the airline for a hotel voucher if they provide it.

Not all airlines provide vouchers for delays, but if yours does, you should take them. 

Related: Why Do Flights Get Delayed?

In conclusion:

  • Most of the time, when your flight gets canceled, the airline will automatically book you on the next available flight.
  • Flights can get canceled for a range of reasons, including bad weather and security concerns.
  • If your flight gets canceled, you should contact the airline and find out if and when they will book you on a new flight.
  • If they don’t, you will be entitled to compensation, including the airline ticket cost and additional compensation if you’re traveling under E.U. laws.

Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.

Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.

Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).