The Guide to Delta Flight Cancellations
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Flight cancellations are no fun, especially if you’re on a tight schedule or a cancellation disrupts upcoming plans. Still, it’s better to learn of a flight cancellation before you get to the airport rather than when you're already on board or sitting at the gate.
Here are some pointers for how to deal with Delta Air Lines flight cancellations so that you won’t be caught off guard if this happens to you.
Why is Delta canceling flights?
Yes, Delta has had some public gaffes when it comes to flight reliability recently, but it's not the only one. So, why is Delta canceling flights?
Staffing issues. A shortage in airline staff as well as an overtaxed air traffic control system means that when weather disrupts the air travel system, the dominoes can fall pretty quickly. The same thing happens when crews get displaced in other cities or mechanical issues mean that a plane cannot be ready for its next flight.
Weather-related and mechanical issues. These happen, sometimes more often than travelers like.
A lack of pilots. A national shortage of trained pilots is not helping. This problem has been exacerbated during the pandemic when many airlines allowed pilots to take early retirements. There just aren’t enough new pilots coming into the system to make up for the demand, which is why many regional airlines (like those that operate for Delta Connection) have canceled flights and some destinations altogether.
What to do if your Delta flight gets canceled
First, follow the steps that Delta provides in its communication. If you receive the cancellation notification via text, email or an alert in your Delta app, chances are that there is a link to provide you with flight alternatives.
From there, you can rebook yourself by choosing an alternate flight or sometimes another departure or arrival airport other than your original one.
For upgraded bookings and group travel
If you paid to upgrade your seat (perhaps with a regional or global upgrade certificate that you chose as a Choice Benefit for being a top Medallion member) or are traveling with a group or unaccompanied minor, things get more complicated. Sometimes, these upgrades may not transfer to your new flight or there may be limited availability. This requires you to call Delta reservations (if you have Medallion elite status, there is a dedicated number for you to call for faster service) or contact Delta via the messaging feature within the app.
Delta will be able to assist you as long as the ticket was issued by Delta, a joint venture partner, SkyTeam or codeshare partner. They can also help if the Delta flight was canceled and ticketed by another carrier with whom Delta has an agreement.
For flights booked in a travel portal
If, however, you booked your ticket with a travel agent or through a third-party website (including the travel portals for Chase Ultimate Rewards® or American Express Membership Rewards), you must contact them directly. It is wise to have their information handy in case you need to access it quickly during a cancellation while traveling.
You may also want to look into online tools like Expert Flyer or SeatSpy to help you find other available flights and track the inbound flight to know if it might be delayed before other passengers discover the delay. It can help to be prepared with other flight options when there are few left and hundreds of people are vying for the next available flight.
» Learn more: Benefits of Delta credit cards
How to get a refund if a flight cancels or changes times
Flyers are eligible to rebook tickets in the event of a flight cancellation or a schedule change of more than 30 minutes. If the proposed change doesn't work for you, you're likely also eligible for a refund.
To get a refund for a Delta flight cancellation, contact the airline by logging into your reservation on Delta.com or the Delta app. Here, there may be an option to cancel the trip by clicking on “Need to cancel?” and then “Start flight cancellation” to get a refund to your original form of payment.
Though Delta’s basic economy tickets are nonrefundable, if the airline cancels your flight, you’re eligible for a full refund.
If you used miles for the ticket, Delta will refund the miles and any taxes that were charged. If you purchased a “Pay With Miles” ticket as a benefit of holding a Delta SkyMiles-affiliated American Express card, the refund comes in the form of a travel credit. Terms apply.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
What travel protections might you already have?
If Delta cancels a flight for reasons within its control (maintenance or unavailable crew), the airline will typically offer assistance. If, however, the cancellation is due to a reason outside of its control — like inclement weather — the onus falls on the passenger.
The airline will provide meals to passengers for flights that are delayed two hours or more due to reasons within its control. If a flight is delayed until the next day, the airline will also provide a hotel. If, however, the flight was canceled because of weather, you can request a refund instead of an alternative flight.
Federal protections are minimal in the U.S.
If a flight is canceled in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Transportation has fewer protections for passengers than other parts of the world. The DOT does not require airlines provide compensation for delayed or canceled flights, although some seat selection or checked baggage fees should be refunded.
If you’re departing from an European Union member country or territory on any airline or traveling with an E.U.-based airline to an E.U. country, Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, often referred to as EC261, can help. Depending upon the distance of your flight and length of delay, you can receive between $250-$600 (250-600 euros) as compensation. Weather and labor disputes are not eligible. Instead, this coverage is only for delays and cancellations related to reasons within the airline’s control such as a mechanical or staffing issue.
» Learn more: A credit card can rescue your trip from stormy weather
Which travel cards or travel insurance policies can help?
If you booked your ticket with a card that provides travel insurance, there are built-in protections. These usually require that the flight disruption result in a severely delayed arrival to your destination or requiring an overnight stay. In those instances, keep all documentation that you have so that you can file a claim for insurance. Remember, the insurance company still has the final say, but it provides coverage in the event of a weather delay or reimbursement if you miss other prepaid reservations.
Some of the best cards with travel insurance benefits include:
Illness, severe weather or flight cancellations are all valid reasons for travel insurance protection.
Not everyone has a card with travel insurance, and some cards, like Citi Prestige® Card, have ditched strong travel protections altogether. Instead, you may want to consider purchasing travel insurance, which can act in the same way by providing compensation for a hotel and meals in the event of an overnight delay.
These policies can be especially helpful when traveling to start a cruise, for example, where you might miss the ship due to a canceled flight and need to purchase a new flight to catch up with the cruise.
Surviving a Delta flight cancellation
While it’s not pleasant, there are options if you want a refund or if you want to rebook your trip. By using the Delta app, website or reservations line, you can manage the rebooking process. If you booked through a third party, that agency can assist, too.
Savvy travelers know that holding the right credit card with solid travel insurance (or buying a separate travel insurance policy) can come in handy in the event of a flight cancellation.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card