The airline said it was a weather delay. This passenger thought otherwise.

Deborah Freedline’s flight was diverted to Pittsburgh because of bad weather at her original destination, New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Pittsburgh’s a great city, but not where she’d planned to spend the night. The airline said it was due to a weather delay. She disagrees and wants more compensation.

“They told us it was due to weather but that’s not the case,” she wrote us. “It’s what they said after the fact. It was actually not weather — it was the fact the crew was going to be off duty in the time that we waited to take off again. The pilot told us on the speaker that the weather had passed in New York and they were waiting for a space to land in LGA but when we could have left, the crew was no longer allowed to fly.”

She wrote to Delta, which explained why this was indeed a weather delay.

Unfortunately, severe local weather in the New York area prevented us from landing as scheduled. Due to the extended delay, our crew members needed rest before they could continue. Although this event wasn’t within our control, we know it has impacted your travel plans. I’m really sorry for the disruption to your travel.

The delay caused the crew to “time out.”

There are strict rules about how long crews can work. Investigators determined that a commercial airliner crash in 2009 that killed all the passengers and crew on board may have been partly attributable to crew fatigue. After that, new rules reduced the number of hours crew members could work in a single shift.

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So this is a safety issue. An important one.

Truth is, no matter what caused the delay, the airline was not legally required to compensate Freedline. In the explanation of airline passenger rights on its website, the Department of Transportation puts it bluntly:

“Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

It also points out that flight schedules are not guaranteed, as does Delta’s contract of carriage.

Delta will exercise reasonable efforts to carry passengers and their baggage according to Delta’s published schedules and the schedule reflected on the passenger’s ticket, but published schedules, flight times, aircraft type, seat assignments, and similar details reflected in the ticket or Delta’s published schedules are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Delta may substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, delay or cancel flights, change seat assignments, and alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket at any time. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Except as stated in this rule, Delta will have no liability for making connections, failing to operate any flight according to schedule, changing the schedule for any flight, changing seat assignments or aircraft types, or revising the routings by which Delta carries the passenger from the ticketed origin to destination.

In the event of flight cancellation, diversion, delays of greater than 90 minutes, or delays that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger’s request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment in accordance with Rule 260 of these conditions of carriage. If the passenger does not request a refund and cancellation of the ticket, Delta will transport the passenger to the destination on Delta’s next flight on which seats are available in the class of service originally purchased. At Delta’s sole discretion and if acceptable to the passenger, Delta may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier or via ground transportation.

Delta did offer Freedline a $75 flight credit, about half what she says her out-of-pocket expenses were for the night in Pittsburgh. That’s more than they were legally required to do, but should they have given her more compensation in the interest of customer relations?

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Dale Irvin

Dale Irvin is a semi-retired writer and editor, now living in south Florida after three years roaming around North America in an RV. You can read about those adventures at

  • deemery

    It could have been worse: She could have been stuck in New York overnight, trying to get to Pittsburgh (and ended up paying NYC hotel rates.)

    I’d like to see the US adopt something similar to the EU regulations on delays, etc.

  • Bill

    good luck with that … regardless of who the “top dog” is, we’re a corporate-driven country and the little guy rarely, if ever, matters :(

  • Lloyd Johnston

    Even in the EU, I don’t think there would have been any compensation as this was a weather delay. Pretty clear that weather delays are beyond the control of the airline.

  • sirwired

    When I first saw that it was a complaint about a questionable weather delay, I thought it was going to be one of those cases about the plane being delayed upstream, or not knowing about en-route weather.

    But this seems like a perfectly normal weather delay to me, enough to get the flight diverted; I would not have expected Delta to have a spare crew waiting in PIT in case of a time out.

  • deemery

    That’s an interesting question, weather delay caused the crew to time-out. But since the airport opened and it was crew rest that prevented the flight from continuing, would the EU rule treat this as ‘weather’ or ‘airline’? I don’t know!

  • Jeff W.

    If I am reading this correctly, NYC had weather issues and while the weather had cleared, the airport operations had not yet recovered.

    So the Delta had a choice: either wait until they could be sure LGA was back to normal, in which case the flight would have been canceled because the of crew rest policies. Or take off anyway and hope LGA recovers in time. It didn’t, so they had to land in PIT instead. Reads as if Delta gambled and “lost”.

    Not sure from where the flight originated. They have a hub in Detroit, so there could have been extra crew there. Boston is also an option, but if NYC gets weather, Boston often gets the same. But crew availability is just one factor. Available fuel is another. And, of course, weather in other areas of the country.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    When this happens, how does the airline choose the landing city? Does passenger convenience weigh in at all? For example, if Philadelphia airport was available, that is a fairly short bus/amtrak to NYC, and passengers could have made it relatively on time, relative to Pittsburgh which would require a rental car and a decent drive. I realize Philly might have had weather issues too in this instance, but the question still stands and I’d love if an expert could give me the answer.

  • Bill___A

    “The delay caused the crew to “time out.”” and the delay was caused by the weather. You can’t just pick whatever issue you want and say it was that. If it weren’t for the weather problem, the plane would have landed when and where it should have.

  • Bill___A

    Look for the “root cause” if you are wondering about this. Hint: Root cause is weather.

  • John McDonald

    why is this story even here ? The weather delay caused the crew time out. End of story. Airlines cannot have spare crews sitting around all over the place. Get a life.
    EU regulations are just plain silly & expensive & won’t help when airline goes belly up, which a lot will in next year or 2, due to massive world recession. Also all this terrorism, is reducing peoples wish to travel. Airlines are offering insanely low airfares to hundreds of international destinations & still they can’t fill aircraft.
    Lastly the EU looks destined to close down. The states with healthier economies are supporting the hopeless socialist states.

  • sirwired

    The diversion airport is picked before the flight even takes off. Lots goes into it, like fuel required, current weather, air traffic loads, availability of facilities for that airline, runway length, etc. There’s an entire profession, with it’s own FAA certification, Flight Dispatcher, which works all this, and a lot of other stuff, out. (Most of that long printout the pilot is handed by the gate agent comes from the dispatcher.)

  • lcpossum

    Please, sir, pull your head out of your butt. Please.

  • Alan Gore

    If this kind of question arises, the rules always come down on the side of most benefit to the airline.

  • Alan Gore

    “You can’t just pick whatever issue you want ”

    That is the carrier’s privilege alone.

  • michael anthony

    Why is this story here? Because it happens often and leaves passengers in the lurch. Regardless of whether they are due something, it us a problem.
    Contrary to your opinion, the major carriers are posting record profits. And while there are terrorist events, most people do not stop traveling. The ONLY carrier to make cuts recently was Emirates and they said it was due to the electronics ban causing a downturn in business travelers. Sure, there are some carriers teetering on the edge, but they have been for years.

    Before jumping to unsupportable conclusions, perhaps you should do some research. There are a wealth if articles out there on how carriers have learned to protect themselves when downturns in the industry occur.

  • michael anthony

    The only thing that should be remedied is the “duty time out” issue. Crews have complained about it for years and the carriers leave no wiggle room for delays, such as those caused by weather. Of course safety is the priority and fatigue has caused numerous accidents over the years, but they have no “backup” for when this occurs, in particular on evening flights. Other industries that serve the public practically 24/7, have on call staff for such events. And although weather is unpredictable, there are times that they know ahead of time they are going to run into this issue. Spring and Summer squall lines that are barreling across the country are guaranteed to create delays and diversions. And a squall line that’s over Chicago at noon, will be impacting the east coast by nighttime due to how fast they move. A bit of advance planning and having some on call staff ready,bcould prevent some of yhese “time outs” from impacting customers so heavily.

  • Michael__K

    False. The EU rule never mentions weather at all.
    Article 9 compensation (e.g. hotels, meals) is always due no matter what. There is an exception for Article 7 compensation:

    Airlines must prove that the delay or cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.

    You will find that the case law supports imposing Article 7 fines for delays where the “root cause” may have been weather, when a subsequent crew availability or other airline issue resulted in separate and additional delays beyond the EU 261 thresholds.

  • Michael__K

    In the EU there is ALWAYS Article 9 compensation (e.g. hotels, meals) no matter what.

    Article 7 compensation is subject to “extraordinary circumstances.” And a weather delay does not automatically qualify as an “extraordinary circumstance.”

  • Jeff W.

    There is usually reserve staff at the major hubs for the airlines. But if it is not a hub, it is unlikely they can shuffle people around. The airlines cannot afford standby crew (and planes) in every city they serve in case a weather event. And if the weather event is major, there is unlikely enough reserves for every flight.

    Remember that little incident at United with removing the doctor? That was UA’s (really their regional partner’s) poor attempt to re-position crew because of timeouts. That didn’t go so well.

    I have been waiting at a gate for my delayed flight at ORD many a time and have seen the crew waiting along side me swapped because of potential time-out situation.

  • John McDonald

    major carriers in USA maybe, but USA is hardly the centre of the universe. Everytime terrorists act, a few more % say staying at home. You can now fly Australia to London return, approx 48 hours of flying time for AUD$899 (Around USD$650) This includes all taxes, baggage, meals, seat allocation, everything & this was before the latest terror attack. Emirates profits are down 82%, Etihad, lost something like $4 billion by stupidly investing in Alitalia & Air Berlin.

    The world economy is stuffed. China is slowing so commodity prices are in the toilet. Your elected Pres is trying to reduce imports esp from China.

    It seems you are in denial about the state of affairs around the world. Depression is just around the corner.

  • DChamp56

    What I don’t see above, is whether Delta got her to NYC eventually or not, and how much later.

  • Noah Kimmel

    If flight was delayed / cancelled I would agree with you. But a diversion to 3rd city should put higher burden on airline to help passengers. We lack enough info to really know what the overnight delays were and how the passenger ultimately got home. It is strange as Delta is usually the most proactive with giving hotel and food vouchers during IROPS

  • Lindabator

    does not apply to weather – and since weather is the reason the crew timed out, no EU compensation either

  • Noah Kimmel

    “Crews have complained about it for years” is not really true.

    Crews actually like those tight schedules. For most domestic airlines, crew are paid hourly from “brake on to brake off”. Yup, they don’t get paid for boarding or delays or sitting in the airport. But many like highly packed trips, as they are therefore efficient and high paying in short period of time. Ultimately, airlines do what any rational business does – schedule as efficiently as possible. Any inefficiencies lead to higher costs (but more flexibility). It is a tricky balancing act.

    Most airlines do have crews who sit on reserve (and spare aircraft) in hubs, but when whether comes in affecting hundreds of flights, it is not feasible to have a backup for everyone. People also tend to forget that their flight isn’t the only one – there is a whole day or more of flying after their flight – out of position crews or planes down line can affect many hundreds of more people.

  • Lindabator

    correct – and oftentimes, the airline really has no choice as to what YOU feel is closer, etc – people just think airlines can do whatever they want – just not true

  • Lindabator

    stop drinking the koolaid – FAA logs ALL delays, and can easily track back to actual causes

  • Lindabator

    and then when they DO – we get backlash, like the United situation – no winning

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