Immanuel Ike’s trip home for Christmas ended before he even made it to airport security.
The 29-year-old was planning to fly Thursday from Chicago, where he lives, to his hometown of Houston with Southwest Airlines. The flight had already been delayed an hour, but just after walking inside the terminal at O’Hare International Airport, he got a notification from the airline that his flight had been canceled amid a major winter storm moving through the Central and Eastern U.S.
The mechanical engineer called the airline, which rebooked him on a Friday flight, and then turned around and went home. The experience left him frustrated, and unsure about his new flight’s prospects.
“I really do want to be back home for Christmas, so I’m just staying positive right now that I’ll be able to get a flight tomorrow,” Ike told USA TODAY.
Ike is hardly in this alone. Nearly 2,000 U.S. flights were canceled and more than 5,000 more were delayed Thursday as of 2:30 p.m. ET, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.
About a quarter of all flights at both Chicago O’Hare and Denver International Airports have been canceled so far. Southwest Airlines’ schedule has been affected the most, with more than 700 flights taken off the schedule for the day.
The storm system is on track to continue pushing east through the end of the week, and airlines have already issued waivers in much of the Midwest, Northeast and even parts of the South for some carriers. Airlines are also proactively canceling flights for Friday, with more than 1,000 taken off the schedule as of 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday.
Here’s what you need to know about what airlines are offering and what you’re entitled to if your flight gets canceled.
Flight delayed or canceled?:What you need to know and what airlines owe travelers.
If your flight is delayed:You may be eligible for compensation from your airline
What am I entitled to if my flight is delayed or canceled?
The Department of Transportation requires all airlines to refund your ticket even if you purchased a nonrefundable fare in the event that your flight is canceled.
Rules around delays are a little more convoluted, and every airline’s policy is slightly different. The DOT has a dashboard for travelers to see what they’re entitled to by carrier.
Oftentimes, airlines don’t compensate for weather-related delays because those are seen as outside of the carrier’s control.
My flight was canceled but I got most of my costs covered (after 3 months)
Airline weather waivers
Although airlines may not offer compensation for many weather delays, they do preemptively try to give travelers more flexibility ahead of expected severe weather.
Currently, many airlines are offering passengers in many regions of the country the option to adjust their trips to travel after the storm passes. Here’s an overview:
- American Airlines: passengers booked on existing tickets to travel to, from or through parts of the Midwest and Northeast through Dec. 25 can push their plans to as late as Dec. 30 in the Northeast or Jan. 1 in the Midwest without paying change fees or fare differences.
- Delta Air Lines: The airline has issued multiple waivers covering travel through Dec. 25 in certain regions. Depending on which airports are included in the original itinerary, travelers may be able to change their ticket to fly as late as Dec. 28 without paying fare differences. Delta does not charge change fees, except on basic economy tickets.
- United Airlines: Travelers in most of the country through Dec. 25 have the option to move their plans to Dec. 28 or 30, depending on the region, without paying a change fee or fare difference. Exact waiver applicability dates and locations vary by region.
- Southwest Airlines: Most travelers have the opportunity to change their tickets for travel through Dec. 26 in the Rockies, Midwest and Northeast without needing to pay a fare difference. The airline does not charge change fees.
- Spirit Airlines: Passengers traveling to, from or through many airports in the Midwest through Dec. 23 and Northeast through Dec. 24. Passengers covered can move their flights to Dec. 28 or sooner without paying a fare difference or change fee.
- Frontier Airlines: Travelers scheduled to fly through Dec. 24 to, from or through certain airports in the Northeast, Midwest and South can change their travel dates without paying a change fee.
- Alaska Airlines: Is allowing travelers booked to fly through Dec. 23 in the Midwest and Dec. 25 in the Northeast to push their departures to as late as Dec. 29 without paying a change fee or fare difference. The airline is also allowing passengers with nonrefundable tickets in that timeframe to cancel their trips and receive credit for future travel.
- JetBlue: Many passengers traveling in the Midwest through Dec. 23 or Northeast through Dec. 24 can move their trip to Dec. 25 or 28th respectively (or sooner) without paying a change fee or fare difference.