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 fabulousfifthwheel.com.

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