Skip to Content

Flight Canceled? Here Is What Major U.S. Airlines Will Do For You

Share The Article

Last Updated

Know Exactly What Your Options Are When The Dreaded Cancelled Sign Appears On The Departures Board

departures board

We all fear flight cancelations, and this year has left most of us especially on edge. Aside from the impact on a vacation, the stress of what to do when your flight is canceled can be overwhelming. Airlines are often hesitant to help at all, and you’re not going to be handed many of the compensatory deals they are supposed to.

Although the government is trying to have our backs a little more, knowing your rights as a passenger is important, and checking what your airline claims it will do for you can ease a lot of concern.

With that in mind, here are what each of the big four US airlines will do for you if your flight is canceled.

girl looks at board

It should be noted that these situations unless specified, relate to a delay or cancelation that is caused by the airline and not weather or other conditions out of the carrier’s control. There are ways to receive compensation above and beyond those listed below, but for the sake of this article, we will focus solely on the main offerings.

American Airlines

The biggest airline in the US. Its most basic guarantee in the case of a canceled or delayed flight that causes a connection to be missed is to book you on the next available flight with seats, only with American or one of their partners. Sadly, despite being the largest, their compensation offers are more in line with budget carriers.

american airlines plane

Refunds/ vouchers

American have recently made significant changes to their refund policy. Unfortunately, that’s not good news for passengers. The company has stated that they are now only obligated to provide refunds for the remaining portion of any flights flown. If that’s an entire round-trip, you get a full refund. But if the return leg is canceled, they can simply refund you and let you deal with things yourself.

It’s also important to note that they only use American flights or partners. If you’re flying a less frequent international route, you might be left stranded for a full day before you’re flying. Domestic flights are less of a risk.


While vague on the specifics on what would be offered, American does claim it will make every reasonable effort to provide snacks, water, and restroom availability in the case of a delay that results in “ lengthy onboard delays on the ground (other than on an active runway or taxiway) with no access to a terminal gate for more than 2 hours.” So if you meet these specifications, start asking for assistance.

As far as can be discerned from the website, full meal vouchers are only offered when a delay is more than three hours, or a diversion lasts longer than three hours.


American only offer accommodation if they fail to provide a rebooked flight that gets you to your destination on the scheduled day. According to its website, it offers:

  • A voucher for an approved hotel with available rooms if you are delayed overnight.
  • Transportation to a hotel and back to the airport by hotel shuttle / third-party transportation service, or a transportation voucher.

The website also stresses that booking a hotel independently could result in the customer having no reimbursement offered. Many people online have complained that the process can take hours in person, and approaching someone online is more successful.

Delta Airlines

Delta is far more comprehensive in their offerings, making it much clearer to understand the options for its inconvenienced customers. Aside from official rules for its conduct with cancelations, Delta grants its representatives the discretion to offer compensation to passengers in the form of gift crads, travel vouchers, or even points. So if you have a rough time with Delta, it’s possible they might try to sweeten the situation a little for you beyond their legal requirements.

delta plane

Refunds/ voucher

If your flight is canceled, Delta will immediately try and rebook you on a new flight. Alternatively, you can claim the remaining portion of your ticket in credits for future flights or as a refund. If the cancelation comes before you have used any part of the ticket, they will offer a refund to the payment method used to buy the ticket within 24 hours.


Similar to American Airlines, Delta will “provide a meal or meal vouchers, if a cancellation or delay results in waiting 3 or more hours beyond the scheduled departure time”. So again, if the time goes beyond this, you should be on the airline’s case.


Delta shines in the hotel compensation aspect. If any cancelation or delay leads to an overnight stay the carrier will provide complimentary accommodation at a Delta-affiliated facility and provide transport to said accommodation. If these hotels aren’t available in the customer’s airport, it will reimburse reasonable hotel and transport costs for the customer. In the worst-case scenario, if no hotels are available, they will offer a credit worth a reasonable hotel stay in the area.

United Airways

United recently updated some of its policies, along with most major carriers, after pressure from the government. It’s working in favor for United customers, who will now feel the benefits of some extra protection.

united airways plane

Refunds/ vouchers

United are pretty flexible with its refund policies in the case of a cancelation. Like other airlines, passengers are offered credits for future flights or a refund based on the remaining portion of their ticket. Again, this means if they have flown the first leg, the second leg will be refunded.

United will also send you back to your airport of origin if your connecting flights become too hectic and offer reimbursement at this point too.


United will now honor the same rules as Delta and American, offering delayed passengers meal vouchers. It is unclear as to how much or if they can be used at any restaurant in an airport.


United have a number of partner hotels where passengers will be housed free of charge in the event of an overnight cancellation or delay. If problems arise outside of the airline’s control, they won’t be able to house you, but have stated that they can offer discounted hotel rates and even toiletries if your bags can’t get to you.


Southwest is a favorite among many travelers, but does its compensation match up to the others? In some ways, yes, and other ways, not so much.

southwest airlines

Refunds/ voucher

Southwest will refund the unused portion of your ticket like the others do. But unfortunately, that’s about where it stops. Its representatives will try and book you on the next available Southwest flight, but doesn’t list any partners or other airlines. In this case, you could be looking at a lengthy delay. If you choose to go with another airline, you’ll be responsible for the difference between the fare you paid and the new flight.

The carrier will even offer the refund if the cancellation is out of their control, which is a good touch.


Thankfully, Southwest has also got on board with the same rules as the other airlines and now includes the three hour delay limit. Once you reach three hours, customers are entitled to meal vouchers from the airline. If vendors that work with Southwest vouchers are unavailable, customer services will look into reimbursement for reasonable purchases.


According to their website, Southwest seems to offer similar accommodation setups to the others. They do say “on request”, so don’t expect to be approached for any compensation; you’ll need to do that yourself. If there are no immediate hotels available that work with the company, it’ll offer reimbursement and travel vouchers.

↓ Elevate Your Travel↓

Sign Up Now For Travel Off Path Premium! No ads, VIP Content, Personal Travel Concierge, Huge Savings, Daily Deals, Members Forum & More!

✈️Join Our Travel Off Path Community Forum: Where travelers unite, ask questions, share experiences and even find like-minded travel buddies!


Enter your email address to subscribe to Travel Off Path's latest breaking travel news, straight to your inbox.

This article originally appeared on

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Friday 2nd of September 2022

"Although the government is trying to have our backs a little more.." Fact: the government and airlines are fully engaging in true fascism to enforce unlawful mandates, including airlines from other countries. Aeromexico is doing this on behalf of the current US administration. No need to even mention the blatant Canadian fascism.


Friday 2nd of September 2022

@Rachel, I think you need to google the definition of "fascism" before using this word.