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Airlines offer little compensation to stranded Atlanta passengers

Passengers stuck in Atlanta overnight or stranded for hours on the tarmac might think they deserve to be compensated for the mess. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

Most airlines say they’re only responsible for getting flyers to their destinations after cancellations caused by a huge power failure at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. 

Delta Air Lines, the airport’s largest carrier, is reimbursing passengers for Sunday night hotel stays. A three-star hotel in Atlanta costs an average of $129 on Sundays, according to the travel reservation site

But the cost of meals, rental cars or lost wages? Don’t count on it (although there are exceptions).

“You don’t have many rights domestically for delays,” said Paul Hudson, the president of, an airline consumer organization. “There’s a need for real reliability standards for both airports and airlines. … Generally, they dump the inconvenience and expense on the traveling public.”

The fine print, contained in airlines’ carriage contracts, says that they will either rebook passengers on the next available flight to their destinations, or they’ll refund the unused portion of tickets. Those contracts reject responsibility for almost all flight cancellations or delays.

Delta, based in Atlanta, is working with customers on a case-by-case basis to help them with the cost of hotels or baggage fees, spokesman Brian Kruse said. Delta canceled about 1,400 flights Sunday and Monday.

Delta employees and volunteers “have been serving customers — from passing out refreshments to assisting customers with wheelchair support,” Chief Operating Officer Gil West said. “Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we’re nearly back to normal at our biggest hub.”

Those flying on Southwest Airlines, which has 120 daily departures from Atlanta, could rebook their flights in the same class of service or travel standby. Southwest had no cancellations and limited delays Monday, according to the airline.

Those who had travel insurance or were traveling to international destinations could be compensated, Hudson said. International flights come with up to $5,700 in compensation for expenses, which could include lost wages, he said.

Airlines could face fines from the U.S. government if they violated federal rules that prohibit domestic flights from staying on the tarmac for more than three hours without giving passengers a chance to leave. In some previous cases, airlines have agreed to compensate passengers to settle those cases, Hudson said.

That leaves the last big issue for passengers: missing checked baggage.

Airlines created phone lines for passengers to find baggage at their destinations. Delta will arrange for baggage delivery for customers who call 1-888-977-1005. Southwest will contact customers when their baggage arrives.

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