The potentially historic storm set to batter the Northeast has raised a lot of questions about cancelled flights. Before this whole thing is done, we could see 10,000 flights grounded. So what *are* your rights?

Your rights when a flight is cancelled

The reality is when an airline cancels a flight due to weather or mechanical problems, they don't have to do anything for you. Nothing. So it pays to be aware of what's up before you go to the airport and get stranded there!

About 70% of air travel in the United States is controlled by 3 full-fare airlines. They each have so many different flight hubs around the country. So you want to see if you can get rerouted through another hub that's not impacted by the storm corridor.

But ultimately, this is one of those situations where if you don't have to go anywhere near the Northeast, then you shouldn't!

Airlines are given a wide berth to draw up their contracts however they wish. They only have a responsibility to take your money. Everything else is on you. So while you have to pay the full-fare airlines a fee if you need to change a flight, they don't have to pay you anything if they change a flight. It is a stacked deck.

In general, you never want to book the last flight of the day. Because if anything goes wrong, you could be stranded overnight. Nor should you book the first flight of the day because it will be impacted if something went wrong last night. The best hours to fly are 9-5. That may not fit your schedule, but those are the best hours.

Whenever there's a storm, your first responsibility is to be safe. I always find it funny when something impacts the tri-state area that the media coverage is outsized because all the news operations are based there. They think because they care about, you should too. But the reality is if you're not traveling into or out of the Northeast, this storm will not have a significant impact on your life.

If you're ever in a situation where you book a flight way in advance and there is a schedule change, you need to fight for re-accommodation or a refund. It's reasonable to expect a full refund if your nonstop suddenly becomes a changeover and you find out well in advance.

You've got to stand up for yourself and assert your rights.

Your rights when bumped from a flight

Have you ever been bumped from a flight? There are some things you should know in order to maximize your compensation.

Airlines will typically offer a guaranteed seat on any flight to the highest level members of their frequent flyer program. That means they are going to be asking for volunteers willing to give up a seat.

The offers vary by airline. If you are a volunteer, it will be free tickets or a voucher for a dollar amount like a gift certificate. But many airlines restrict the way you can redeem those vouchers. So if it's a choice between a voucher and a certificate for future travel, take the certificate.

If you are involuntarily bumped from a flight, they are required to give you cold, hard cash if you ask. It will be up to 400% of what you paid for your ticket, with a hard cap of $1,200. That's if you are forced off the flight to accommodate a frequent flier.

That's when it's a case of show me the money!

Read more about your rights as an airline passenger at the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the US Department of Transportation.

Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. View More Articles

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