Best Airlines for Stranded Passengers

Published February 28, 2011
Last modified February 28, 2011

When passengers learn that their return flight has been canceled and their plane won’'t be leaving the airport after all, it’'s a little like being diagnosed with a “terminal” condition.

Stage 1: Denial. You can’t believe this is happening. Then anger: telling the gate attendant in no uncertain terms that you have to fly out this evening. This is followed by bargaining: offering to pay more, not to sue or switch airlines. Then the depression sinks in (good god, this night is going to be horrible).

And finally...

Acceptance: You ain’'t goin’ nowhere.

In that event, which airline is the best to go nowhere with?

  • May, at their discretion, put you on another airline.
  • May issue a refund, if you ask.
  • Provides meals and hotel accommodations with contracted facilities, based on availability.
  • Otherwise issues a credit voucher equal in value to the contracted hotel rate which can be used for a future Delta flight or other service.

  • Offers a “distressed-passenger rate” good for some local hotels.
  • Creates a stand-by list (passengers can use one of the self-check-in machines and list themselves on it).
  • Offers a refund.

  • Tries to rebook passengers on the next United flight.
  • May elect to book them on an airline with whom United has arrangements.
  • Offers hotel lodging for one night.
  • Ground transportation to the intended airport if diverted to nearby airport.

Under Rule 24, once you get past a host of definitions, clauses, sub-clauses, caveats,  and other fine points (which reads as if it was drafted by a plane full of lawyers stranded on the tarmac with lots of time on their hands), the list of causes “beyond their control” includes: acts of God, riots, terrorist activities, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, disturbances, or unsettled international conditions, either actual, anticipated, threatened or reported, strikes, work stoppages, labor-related disputes, government regulations, labor shortages, damage to aircraft caused by outside party, or ‘any event not reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted by CO.’ The crux of what Continental provides is:

  • One night’'s lodging or a maximum allowance for one night’'s lodging if a flight delay is expected to exceed four hours, between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time. If you don’t take what they offer, you’'re on your own. No credit vouchers.
  • Ground transportation to the hotel via public conveyance.
  • Snacks and meal vouchers; and the “biggie” upon request: one three minute long-distance phone call.

Continental also offers booking on next available flight, re-booking on another carrier, or a refund.

As opposed to Continental’'s policies, which look as if they were drafted so some administrator could point to a sub-clause and exclaim, “A-HA! No hotel for you!” Virgin America’'s are short and sweet, and include:

  • Re-booking on the next Virgin America flight or another airline’'s flight to the same or nearby destination.
  • Stranded passengers will receive hotel accommodations and meal vouchers.
  • Ground transportation to hotel, if necessary.
  • If you’'re stuck overnight due to causes such as inclement weather or a natural disaster, Virgin directs you to hotels with discounted rates.
  • If aircraft is forced to land in a different airport and passengers remain overnight, Virgin provides hotel accommodations and meals. If the “new” airport is in the same metropolitan area, Virgin will provide ground transportation to original destination, if possible.

  • Rebooks the customer on Spirit's first available flight without additional charge. No re-booking on other carriers.
  • No hotel accommodations or vouchers.
  • Spirit may provide limited amenities and services to certain customers who require them in order to maintain their safety, health, and welfare, but emphasizes that these amenities are provided as a courtesy, not an obligation.

Getting stranded at an airport is not something you ever plan for or take into account when choosing an airline, but IF you get stranded, you’'d do well to be booked on Virgin America.

Note: All the airlines make a distinction between circumstances under their control (mechanical breakdowns), and those beyond (weather). For the most part, the amenities listed here apply in the former case, airline-by-airline.

Photo courtesy of sonyaseattle.