How travelers can challenge the industry’s “act of God” excuses

cephotoclub/Shutterstock
cephotoclub/Shutterstock
It’s the time of year when the travel industry likes to play the weather card. Couldn’t check into your hotel? Blame it on that distant tornado. Flight canceled? It’s the hurricane’s fault, even though it’s hundreds of miles away. A big repair bill for your rental car? Thank last week’s hailstorm.

Usually, the weather — often referred to as an “act of God” in a ticket contract — is a perfectly legitimate reason for a delay or a service interruption. But not always.

Shannon Duane remembers a recent US Airways flight from Jacksonville, Fla., to Charlotte on a holiday weekend. As she prepared to board, she saw a bolt of lightning across the airfield. The airline announced that it would delay boarding for another 15 minutes because of the thunderstorm.
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Are airlines bending the truth about weather delays?

snow stormA few minutes after Michele Loftin’s recent commuter flight from Sacramento to San Francisco pushed back from the gate, it made an abrupt U-turn and returned to the terminal. A United Airlines crew member told passengers that the aircraft’s de-icer test had failed, and the airline eventually canceled the flight.
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Tarmac delay hall of shame: holiday edition

Anyone who thinks tarmac delays are dead was in for a little shock this week. Hundreds of flights were delayed in a series of powerful blizzards, and a few sat between the runway and the terminal for hours, waiting for the weather to clear.

The Transportation Department, which hasn’t fined a single airline for a tarmac delay since instituting its three-hour rule last spring, will almost certainly have to take some enforcement action this time. And, of course, there’s a big loophole: International flights remain exempt from the turnback rule.

More than two dozen international flights waited more than three hours from Monday to Wednesday to get to an open gate in New York, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The worst delay appears to be a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok that arrived Monday evening and got to a gate 12 hours later at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.
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It’s cold out there — don’t you wish you were here?

If you live on the East Coast of the United States — and most folks reading this site do — then you’re probably thinking about the weather this weekend. Complaining about it, to be exact.

Yeah, it’s cold and snowy. And winter’s just getting started.

Since this blog is all about solutions, and since I’m kind of in the same predicament (there’s a freeze warning for Central Florida tonight) I thought I’d mention a few places that you might rather be.
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When should hotels refund non-refundable rooms? Survey says …

When it’s unable to operate the property safely. In a multiple-choice survey about hotel  room refundability, 83 percent of readers voted “yes” on that option. There were 678 responses to the poll.

Another 65 percent said rooms should be given their money back when a guest has a verified emergency, such as a death in the family. Roughly half of the respondents said refunds should be given when a guest can’t make it because of an Act of God, like bad weather.

Only seven percent said hotels should never refund a room.
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When should travel companies waive their change fees during bad weather? Survey says …


More often than they do.

A majority of travelers (69 percent) said change fees and penalties should be suspended when bad weather prevented “a significant number” of travelers from from reaching the airport, hotel or port. Slightly fewer (62 percent) also said they should put the rules on “hold” when bad weather prevents the travel company from operating safely.

More than one-third (35 percent) said the rules should be waived when bad weather prevents an individual traveler from reaching the airport, hotel or port. And only 3 percent said a weather-related exception should never be made.

Your comments reflected the responses on the survey. Reader Jim Johansen said rules should be bent on a case-by-case basis.
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Weekend survey: When should a travel company bend its rules because of bad weather?

Should a travel company waive its change fees or offer refunds when bad weather strikes? Should it ever bend its rules to accommodate passengers who are delayed because of a storm?

With a dangerous hurricane approaching the mainland this Labor Day weekend, it’s a question worth asking.

Here are the results.

Meantime, if you’re in the United States, have a great Labor Day weekend. If not, then consider yourself lucky — the storm probably aren’t heading your way.