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Recently had a flight canceled or luggage lost? Read about your rights and how to best plan your next trip

Air passengers' rights are limited when it comes to flight delays, cancellations and lost luggage, but there are things consumers can do to smooth their travels.

Troy Becker / The Forum
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FARGO - There’s an old saying that rain on your wedding day will bring you good luck.

For Chris and JoEllen Langemo, a shower of canceled, re-routed and delayed airline flights that popped up in the path to their June 23 wedding in New York City’s Central Park should mean they’ll stay happily married forever.

The Valley City, N.D., residents, their children and other wedding attendees are among the millions of air travelers who’ve been caught up in an industrywide wave of cancellations and delayed flights since the start of the year, as Americans rushed to return to the wild blue yonder.

From Jan.1 to Monday, Aug. 8, about 142,500 of more than 5.4 million flights scheduled were canceled in the U.S., for a 2.6% cancellation rate, flight tracking firm FlightAware reports. Nearly 1.14 million flights (20.9% of the total) were delayed.

For comparison, in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, 170,632 (1.6%) of the more than 10.3 million flights were canceled, while nearly 1.7 million or 16.2% of the flights were delayed.


Unfortunately, there’s little protection written into U.S. law for consumers who find themselves dealing with the disruptions of flight delays and cancellations.

Kyle Potter, executive editor for Minnesota-based travel site Thrifty Traveler , says it always pays to be prepared when you travel, but even more so now.

“This process, just all of the disruptions that we’ve all seen and heard about in the last few months in particular, this is on people’s minds when it comes to air travel more than anything I’ve ever covered or seen in the last several years here. I think people are, rightfully, concerned,” he said Monday, Aug. 8.

Chris Langemo and his wife, JoEllen, were married in New York's Central Park on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Chris said destination wedding proved to be a test of patience, perseverance and flexibility.
Chris Langemo / Contributed to The Forum

Chris Langemo, who farms near Fingal, N.D., said he and his wife, JoEllen had spent a year planning a destination wedding, hiring a planner, booking an Airbnb and flights for nine people, for a weeklong stay in The Big Apple.

Sunday, June 19, the day they were to leave, they got a text at 3:30 a.m. from Delta Air Lines saying their flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport was canceled and they were re-booked for Monday, but they were split into three different routes.

After hours on the phone, Chris re-booked everyone on the same flights to New York.

At 3:30 a.m. Monday, they learned a connecting flight from Dallas was canceled and they were booked again on separate flights. Despite more time on the phone, JoEllen and her children had to be routed through Myrtle Beach, S.C., on their way to New York.

Chris and his kids made it to New York fine, but JoEllen texted him that their flight from Myrtle Beach to New York was canceled. They stayed overnight, and then their flight out Tuesday morning was delayed.


That forced more scrambling. A needed pre-marriage interview had to be rescheduled to Wednesday. And the Thursday morning wedding needed to be pushed into the afternoon, but the wedding planner made it happen.

“Our wedding was perfect … even though nothing up to that point had worked out how it was supposed to!” Chris said.
The return trip wasn’t any easier.

Chris and JoEllen Langemo, second row center, were married in New York's Central Park on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Getting the wedding party and the family to the gathering turned into a test thanks to flight cancellations and delays.
Chris Langemo / Contributed to The Forum

On their departure day, Saturday, June 25, they awoke to the sound of a vomiting child.

The plan was to send JoEllen along with her other four children back to Fargo. Chris and the ill child would follow Sunday if he felt better.

“I was assured (by Delta Air Lines) that my other two kids wouldn’t have any issues returning home with my new bride. That was true until she tried to check their bags in,” Chris said.

JoEllen was directed to a customer service line with 45 to 50 people waiting ahead of her, and couldn't make the plane. They were all stuck in New York another night.

The next day, JoEllen and four children flew out of Newark, N.J.; Chris and his son flew out of LaGuardia.

At the end of their time in travel purgatory, they were given $900 in travel vouchers, but Chris figures the family is out $4,500 to $5,000 in lost Airbnb time, unused attraction tickets, and added hotel and transportation costs. As of Tuesday, Aug. 9, he had heard nothing from Delta on his request for reimbursement.


Potter of Thrifty Traveler said it will probably take some patience and persistence on the Langemos’ part to get further compensation.

“If these things do happen, it really is up to the airline to decide what, if anything, that they want to do,” Potter said.

Travelers in the United States have shockingly few rights when things go wrong in air travel, particularly if it is weather-related, Potter said.

“There really is only one hard and fast law that protects travelers in the U.S. If the airline cancels or significantly delays your flight, you can cancel your trip altogether, cancel the entire reservation, and get a full refund. Not just an airline voucher or a travel credit, but you can actually get your money back,” Potter said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also offers an extensive online rundown of Fly Rights ( https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights ) for consumers, which, among other things, includes exhaustive compensation guidelines for being bumped, voluntarily or involuntarily, on an overbooked flight.

Air carriers do want to maintain good will, and they’ll dole out travel credits or bonus miles to passengers for their troubles, Potter said.

“I would encourage anyone who has been through these kinds of circumstances to ask, and ask, and ask again. But it really is up to the airlines to decide what it means to do right by consumers,” Potter said.

Fargoan Katie Wangstad talks Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, about her more than monthlong effort to recover a checked bag after she returned in late June from a trip to Europe.
Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

Fargoan Katie Wangstad was also caught up in this summer’s travel woes, or rather, her luggage was.

At the end of June, Wangstad, a German teacher, returned to the U.S. after a trip to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Finland.

The seasoned traveler says the journey from May 30 to June 30 had gone well. Then, on her return trip from Helsinki to Fargo, she paid an extra $60 euros (about $61) to check her purple suitcase packed with clothes, gifts and souvenirs. That was the last she saw of it for more than a month.

“They told me in Fargo that it should be here in 24-48 hours,” Wangstad said Thursday, Aug. 4. “They sounded hopeful. I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be 24 to 48 hours. So I kind of waited.”

And waited.

She made several calls and eventually filed a lost baggage claim. She put her losses at about $1,900.

On Day 24, Wangstad told her story on a Facebook page dedicated to Delta complaints. Another user shared contact information for a top Delta official. She thinks a note she sent to the official moved her case along.

Her case was eventually turned over to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in Amsterdam. In the meantime, Delta sent her a check for $1,600, $300 shy of covering her losses.

KLM eventually tracked down her bag, and it was delivered 7 p.m. Aug. 3.

“I got the bag in. Laid it down. Unzipped it. And it immediately reeked,” Wangstad said.

Everything in the bag was wet, as if it had been left out in the rain, she said.

Fargoan Katie Wangstad said brochures, clothing, shoes and other items were damaged by water and moldy by the time her bags were returned Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, after they had been lost on the return leg of a European trip that ended in late June.
Katie Wangstad / Contributed

She washed and re-washed clothes until almost 3 a.m., saving what she could. The suitcase, moldy shoes, clothing, candy, brochures and other items had to be tossed.

The whole affair has made her more sad than mad, she said. She wishes she had gotten more personal care.

“There was no human contact, there was no one I could talk to. That was probably the worst part of all of this. That was very frustrating,” Wangstad said.

Domestic air travel is improving, Potter said, but he offers some suggestions for taking to the skies with Labor Day and the holiday season coming up.

Baggage tips:

“Now, more than ever, it’s worth trying to pack in a carry-on, rather than checking a bag," Potter said.

It will save on checking fees and worries about having a bag lost, he said.

“In particular, right now … if you’re going to Europe, you couldn’t pay me enough money to check a bag right now, heading to Europe and back,” Potter said. “The problems we see here in the U.S. are probably two to three times as worse at some of the major airports in Europe. They cannot seem to stop losing bags.”

He suggests getting a good backpack to use as a carry-on for essentials and a couple changes of clothes, as well as investing in Apple AirTags or Tile bluetooth tracking devices to make it easier to track down lost bags.

Take an inventory of what you’re carrying and keep receipts.

Have a good travel insurance policy, and read the fine print to know what you’re covered for. Also, buy your flight with a good travel credit card that has protections built in. That will make it easier to get reimbursed for lost items.

Avoiding delays, cancellations:

To avoid delays and cancellations, Potter urges travelers to pick "the earliest flight that you can ... the earlier the better."

Data shows that airlines get early flights out pretty easily, but as the day wears on, weather, mechanical and staffing issues can create "a snowball effect" in flight schedules.

Leaving a day early is also smart, particularly if you have to be somewhere for a big live event, such as a wedding, graduation or funeral.

“If you have an option between a nonstop flight and one with a connection, pick the nonstop every single time. If you’re taking a connection, you’ve just doubled your odds that your flight is going to get delayed or canceled,” Potter said.

Book direct with an airline. Booking direct helps travelers get better answers quicker when it comes to rescheduling or getting additional compensation, he said.

Potter also encourages people to check and double-check their flights as the trip draws near to be sure the schedule hasn’t changed.

Wangstad said the experience hasn't soured her on travel.

“The next trip I have planned is in December, to go to New York with my girls,” she said. “I’ve told them, carry-ons only … or you’re not going! I’m not going to deal with this in New York City!”

Chris Langemo is philosophical about his family’s odyssey, too.

“You don’t want rain on your wedding day,” but if you do get it, it's supposed to be lucky, Langemo said. “I would like to think of all the troubles we had with the flights … I like to think that means we’ll have a long, happy, healthy marriage."

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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