Nothing can ruin a vacation or a business trip faster than getting caught up in airline delays or cancellations. More than 6,000 flights have been canceled today due to the intense late-winter storm, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight data. The storm, dubbed Stella by The Weather Channel, threatens to dump more than a foot of snow in parts of the Northeast. 

Knowing your rights as an airline traveler can help ease the situation. In some cases, airline travelers may be due compensation from the airline. Airlines won’t always alert you to whether you are owed compensation or services, so it’s best to come prepared with knowledge of the rules and stand up for yourself, says George Hobica, the founder of travel site

Airline travelers may be surprised to find out how few rights they actually have.

“They aren’t guaranteed a seat, or a flight arrival time,” Hobica says. “If you buy nonstop, you aren’t entitled to a nonstop flight. They can change everything. The only thing you are entitled to is a refund.”

The first step is to read an airline’s contract of carriage, he recommends. Each airline has its own guarantees for what it will and won’t provide to travelers in case of delays or cancellations.

For instance, in case of a cancellation, Delta says it will route airline travelers on the next available flight or, at the airline’s discretion, rebook on another carrier. Delta will also provide a refund, if the passenger requests it. Southwest will also provide a refund or place a passenger on the next available flight, but its contract doesn’t include the option to rebook on another carrier.

Rights also vary by country. Airline travelers whose flights originate in the European Union are entitled to compensation if their flights are delayed for several hours or canceled. Payments can range from about $283 to $680 per person. Unfortunately, that isn’t a right for air travelers whose flights originate in the U.S.

Know Your Rights

So where do you have some recourse?

If your flight is delayed or canceled. The federal government has no requirements about how airlines handle delays or cancellations, and each airline handles the process according to their contract of carriage. The Department of Transportation advises travelers to use “defensive planning” because of the likelihood of delays and cancellations.

Generally, airlines will rebook travelers on one of their own flights. Not all of them will try to rebook customers on other airlines, however. Passengers can also ask for a refund, and then rebook themselves on another flight or make alternate plans.

Delays or cancellations can easily ruin expensive vacation plans. Travelers should consider booking their flights with credit cards that offer good insurance for air travel snafus, Hobica says. Chase Sapphire Preferred, for instance, offers trip coverage up to $10,000 for canceled trips and $500 for delays.

Travelers do have rights when it comes to getting stuck on the tarmac, however. The Department of Transportation prohibits airlines from keeping planes waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours.

Airlines might try to do more for customers who paid a higher fare or who are in their higher-level membership groups, Hobica adds. If you aren’t satisfied with the outcome, reach out to the airline’s customer service department and politely ask for compensation. 

If you’re bumped off your flight. While overbooking isn’t illegal, travelers who are bumped involuntarily have rights guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the airline rebooks you to reach your destination within an hour of your original arrival time, the carrier doesn’t owe you anything.

But if the new arrival would make you between 1 to 2 hours late on a domestic flight (and one to four hours late on international flights), the airline must pay double your one-way airfare, up to $675. If the delay is more than two hours on a domestic flight and four hours on an international one, or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements, you are due four times your airfare, up to $1,350. 

Some airlines will try to give you a voucher rather than provide the cash, but Hobica advises against accepting the voucher, which may come with restrictions and be worth less than the compensation. “You are entitled to a cash payment,” he says.

If you still want to consider a voucher offer, ask about the catches, such as whether it has blackout days, when it expires, and if it’s good for international travel.