Stranded? What Airlines Have to Do About It

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- With ash clouds back in travel news, many U.S. residents have likely been wondering whether an airline would have to pay for their hotel stay abroad if they were stranded due to a flight.

Charles Leocha, director of advocacy group Consumer Travel Alliance, says the answer is not cut and dried.

Airport
The European Union mandates that airlines pay for passengers' food and overnight accommodations when they cannot complete scheduled service, but the U.S. has no such rules.

Some countries have laws addressing this issue. The European Union, for instance, mandates that airlines pay for passengers' food and overnight accommodations when they cannot complete scheduled service. And many international airlines will spring for a hotel room when a flight gets delayed in Europe, though they too have been known to dispute the law and a few airlines have found ways to minimize the costs.

"Ryanair has just added a fee to cover their expenses for these rules," Leocha adds.

However, while the EU maintains that U.S. carrier flights leaving Europe are subject to its customer-care law, domestic airlines aren't as quick to open their wallets, since no U.S. law requires it.

"The feds don't require the airlines to refund your ticket, or feed or house you," says Lisa Fantino, an attorney and travel consultant for Wanderlust Women Travel.

Domestic airlines are required by law to pay passengers who involuntarily lose their seat in cash or with a voucher for between $400 and $800, depending on the delay, although the voucher range is set to rise to $650-$1,300 starting in August.

Obtaining overnight accommodations in the event of a long delay hinges on whether airlines are willing to succumb to international pressures.

"After the last volcano issue, the EU did not back down," Leocha says, noting that U.S. Airlines paid for hotel rooms for those who were stranded due to a volcano eruption in Iceland last year. "There may be more clarity when the airlines release their new expanded and standardized customer service plans in about four months."

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