10 U.S. Airlines, Are They Cheating You?

Perhaps that should be “10 airlines, HOW are they cheating you.”

While everyone is being cheated of their time with airport delays, nearly 100,000 U.S. passengers are probably delayed EACH DAY by flight cancellations!

A one or two day delay is a big chunk out of a vacation, dramatically so if you have kids in tow. A true nightmare if you have a pet! Since so many flights are already overbooked, missing one flight can mean several days’ delay, not just a few hours.

A flight cancellation can be downright disastrous for some business travelers.

On July 2, just before the holiday, Fortune reported that 100,000 passengers were delayed based on 10,000 delayed flights with an average of 100 passengers/flight – that was only over a 30 hour period.


According to FlightAware.com, nearly 600 flights were not just delayed but outright canceled on July 2, 2022 – that’s 60,000 passengers.

This is a massive problem.

In June 14,000,000 estimated people were inconvenienced by airline delays and cancellations.

What were their rights? Many of them didn’t know what benefits they were entitled to.

Each airline offers different kinds of compensation, none of which would make up for missing grandma’s funeral or your daughter’s wedding, but at least they may offer you something.

You can even find out what the airlines think you deserve, it is probably on the airline website (someplace on their website) and may be on a printed ticket. Both will probably be in legal language.

If you want to compare airlines you would have to look up all 10 lists of compensations.

But the airlines don’t make it easy to learn your rights and why would they, it costs them money.

Know your rights!

They vary by airline and, until last week the only way you could learn your rights was to struggle through page after page of small print, probably making a lot of personal notes along the way.

This is one case where the government really is here to help you.

For a cancellation which should be under their control (not war, storm, etc.) what does your airline owe you automatically?

10 Airlines, Compensation/Benefits

Short of government intervention in the form of mandates the 19th Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, has done the next best thing by listing ALL the perks you are entitled to when your airline cancels your flight.

Pete Buttigieg Secretary of Transportation
Pete Buttigieg Secretary of Transportation Official government photo public domain

The list puts all the airlines in one place and in an easy to read format.

Some things most passengers say they would appreciate are included in the compilation created by the Department of Transportation.

If more people demand their rights and benefits it will start to hurt the airlines financially which could lead to better customer service, although the cost is actually pretty small compared to the inconvenience of sleeping in an airport with 3 young kids and a crying baby. (Possibly your husband if the cancellation means he will miss THE BIG GAME!)

The information below is taken from the D.O.T. chart.

>Free rebooking on the same airline at no additional cost – everyone does that. “Free” means no additional costs, just whatever the new flight costs, which could be more.

> Free rebooking on ANOTHER airline – ONLY American, Delta, JetBlue, and United provide this at no additional cost. For the others, if you made the mistake of picking the wrong airline in the first place you are “encouraged” to stick with that decision.

> If your flight is delayed more than 3 hours you are entitled to either a free meal voucher or cash for a meal – ONLY Allegiant (a Las Vegas based ultra low cost airline serving 117 airports) does NOT offer this free food, the other 9 U.S. based airlines all do so.

> Free hotel room if there is an overnight delay – Everyone EXCEPT Frontier offers that.

> Free transport to and from the complimentary hotel room – ONLY Frontier and Sprint do NOT provide this even though Sprint does give you a free hotel room.

D.O.T. Benefits Chart PDF

You might want to keep this chart but remember airlines do this voluntarily and could change policies.

Best and Worst Airlines

With so many cancellations it might seem that flying on a schedule is nearly impossible, but even with so many cancellations one airline must be the worst and American Airlines easily wins the race to the bottom with nearly 20,000 cancellations so far this year.

But you can’t just look at the raw numbers.

The list below shows that for the first part of this year American Airlines did well for on-time arrivals but remember that those numbers do not include those “canceled” flights.

What this means is if you can get on an AA flight you have a nearly 80% chance of arriving on time. That is one of the best rates in the industry.

However, while all those cancellations may make it look like you have the lowest chance of getting on a flight, that is misleading. One major reason American Airlines has the most cancellations is that the American Airlines Group has the largest fleet of planes and by far the largest number of flights and passengers.

All these numbers can be confusing but just remember the percentages below apply only to scheduled flights that actually took off – canceled flights don’t count.

Delta, with only half as many cancellations as American, is one of the best with fewer cancellations as well as having a very good on-time rating but again the numbers may not be cut and dried so let us look deeper.

Delta has 877 aircraft which actually makes Delta second to American Airlines’ 913 planes and in fact, is the second largest airline in the world so when they have half the number of cancellations as AA, the number really is a good measure of customer service.

American Airlines plane. Image by Bilal EL-Daou from Pixabay
Image by Bilal EL-Daou from Pixabay

Yep, the raw numbers really did show that AA is much worse than Delta when it comes to cancellations.

American Airlines blames staff shortages and has already cut 3% of September flights out of its Philadelphia, PA hub and 5% of its scheduled flights for October.

Airlines ranked best to worst in on-time arrivals in the first three months of 2022
Hawaiian – 83% of flights arrived within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival
Delta – 81.2%
Alaska – 79.3%
American – 77.7%
United – 75.5%
Southwest – 75.0%
Spirit – 71.2%
Frontier – 64.8%
JetBlue – 62.9%
Allegiant – 16.9%


So many people want to fly so badly that virtually every listed flight is overbooked – the result is that many people settle for flying badly.

Airlines can’t predict the weather a month ahead but they do know pretty accurately how many pilots they will have.

Been Bumped?

What happens if your flight is overbooked and you are told you have been bumped, or the airline asks you to voluntarily give up your seat on that flight?

There is great news for those who get bumped, at least compared to the compensation for other delays.

“Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $775. Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights after being bumped will receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $1,550.” That quote is from The D.O.T. government site.

The airlines are usually pretty up-front about these bennies but now that you know you can remind them if necessary.


person waiting in airport
Waiting in airport. Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Weather Delays – You’re Out of Luck

Having seen what benefits airlines provide for cancellations you might be thinking about that phrase at the top of the D.O.T. chart, “Commitments for Controllable Cancellations.”

What exactly does “Controllable” mean?

That could be a complicated legal question but essentially it means beyond the airline’s control and in most instances means weather delays. Volcano dust and conflicts would probably also fit the definition of uncontrollable.

Some delays are simply not under the control of the airline but, unfortunately, in the United States, delays caused by weather conditions are NOT compensated by the airlines.

If you are a frequent flier or have some other reason an airline would want to do you a favor you can always ask for compensation and you might get something but there is no legal requirement and, as far as I could determine, no U.S.-based airlines have compensation policies for severe weather events causing delays or cancellations.

snow plow city street
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Other Airline Flight Rules

See https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights for all rules and regulations for airlines from the information here to rules about baggage, safety, smoking rules, and last but not least, where to complain.

These can change and, as the D.O.T. states on their site while they attempt to keep up to date there may be changes not yet reflected in the government site.

Why all the Delays?

Most airlines say they are experiencing many problems due to COVID-related staff shortages and an inability to hire new workers since the U.S. unemployment rate is one of the lowest in history – there simply aren’t a lot of people looking for jobs.

That seems obvious enough, but doesn’t explain why they are cancelling so many flights.

Staff shortages explain why they must have fewer flights, but not why they keep scheduling so many more than they can actually staff.

The airline situation reminds me of U.S. doctors who are NEVER on time yet their office managers never seem to notice and keep scheduling too many patients too close together. Is there a class which teaches doctors that the first thing they say to patients is, “I’m sorry for the delay?”

Doctors and airlines can do it for the same reason – customers have no other option. If you can’t afford to charter a plane then you MUST either drive or take an airplane and there aren’t any highway tunnels to Europe.

Restaurants, at least the ones which stay open a year or more, can estimate how many diners will order lasagna on Tuesdays so they only make that much. Sometimes they run out but if it happens a lot they just make more the next Tuesday.

Why can’t airlines just count how many pilots they have? That puts an upper limit on the number of flights possible but they always seem to book a lot more!

Staff, crew, or mechanical problems will always plague such a technology-intensive industry but industry observers expect upwards of 300,000 total cancellations into, out of, and within the U.S. in 2022.

Over a quarter million cancellations a year seems excessive.

Airlines in the U.S. are a special case. The government wanted to encourage airplane development and one way was to exempt airlines from some rules which govern other businesses.

The bottom line is that airlines overbook because they find it financially better to pay mild compensation to those who request it than to risk having an empty seat. Until or unless people either fly less or boycott the worst performing airlines there won’t be any change.