Flight Canceled? What Should You Do?

*Related Note: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Grounding

Investigations into a corrupt file that caused the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAMs) central database, and its backup system, to fail continue. The Notices notify pilots of issues along their route and destination. Due to the NOTAM failure, an order to stop all aircraft departures nationwide had been issued.

a man standing at airport while his flight is cancelled

Flight Cancellations

A combination of bad weather, staffing issues, and increased demand prompted Southwest Airlines to cancel thousands of flights over the Christmas holidays in 2022.

Poor weather conditions prompted many airlines to cancel many flights. But on the day after Christmas, Southwest canceled ten times more flights than Delta, which was the runner-up in this category. Furthermore, weather delays not only cause havoc for transferring passengers. They also create issues for transferring crew members. Furthermore, many airlines, including Southwest, downsized during and after coronavirus lockdowns. These airlines, including Southwest, have had issues coping with increased demand.

In a statement, the Transportation Department called the Southwest cancellations “unacceptable” and promised to “examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.

Do Not Lose Your Cool at the Airport

Frustrated individuals are free to vent on social media or to other people, as long as they do so outside the airport. Try and remember that ticket agents and other such employees have little or no control over airline flight/cancelation issues.

Social media posts often include pictures and videos. In terms of video recording, most states are single-party consent states. One party to a conversation may consent to the recording (e.g. I give myself permission to record this call). Maryland and Massachusetts, along with about a half-dozen other states, are multi-party consent states. All parties must consent to recordings. A few other states, like Connecticut, are mixed states with very complex laws.

More to the point of this blog, most losing-your-cool offenses at airports are assaults or disruptive behavior.

When flights are canceled en masse, tensions are already high, and people are tired and hungry so passenger-on-passenger assaults could become more likely. Most states have three degrees of assault (or battery in some jurisdictions):

  • ABC: Assault by Contact is basically a harmful or offensive touch, like shoving another person in line. Generally, ABC is a Class C misdemeanor, which is the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
  • Ordinary Assault: If the victim sustained any injury, no matter how slight, the state could press ordinary assault charges. Note that the state, not the victims, decides whether or not to press charges in all criminal cases. Victims are only material witnesses.
  • Aggravated Assault: Prosecutors usually press these charges if the defendant caused a serious injury, which usually means sending someone to the emergency room, using a dangerous weapon, which could be practically any solid object, or assaulting someone in a protected class, like a police officer.

Assault could involve civil liability as well. In New York and most other states, airport owners and other property owners have a duty of care to ensure that their premises are reasonably safe. If the owner was negligent, a New York personal injury attorney can obtain compensation for victims. That’s something that criminal courts hardly ever do.

Most states broadly define “disruptive behavior” as anything which prevents airline employees from doing their jobs. Physical assaults are disruptive, but so are threatening and intimidating statements, or at least statements the alleged victim believes are intimidating or threatening.

If the defendant acts out on the plane after the door is closed, disruptive behavior is a federal offense.

Know Your Rights

Most airlines waive rebooking fees when flights are canceled. However, travelers should pay close attention to the fine print. If the cancellation happened outside the designated window, even if it was only a few minutes later or earlier, substantial fees might apply.

On a related note, passengers can also ask to fly on a different airline or change their destinations to nearby airports.

Some travelers believe that airlines will put them in hotels if they are stranded overnight. There’s no legal requirement to do so. However, most airlines have their own policies in this area. These policies usually at least include discounts or vouchers, at least in some cases.

Avoid Future Issues

Generally, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Nonstop flights usually have fewer issues, especially flight connection issues. Additionally, early morning flights are generally more trouble-free. If you think you may have issues making an early morning flight, consider booking a hotel room near the airport and staying there the night before departure. At Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, we help travelers get where they are going, and we help injury victims obtain the compensation they need and deserve.