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How Travel Companies Handle Events That Are Beyond Their Control

(September 2001)

The recent terrorist attacks hitting New York City and Washington D.C. have affected all areas of travel, but nothing has been more affected than air travel. In the wake of the hijackings, the FAA put a "national ground stop" on all aircraft in the U.S. through at least noon ET on Wednesday, meaning that no aircraft can take off with the exception of military and law enforcement flights. The FAA's grounding of aircraft and closing of airports qualifies as a “force majeure event” as it is a condition beyond anyone's control.

Buried in most airlines' contract a carriage is the term force majeure, which means an airline can cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight without notice in these situations. If your flight is affected by a force majeure event, the airline's only obligation is to refund you the price of your ticket or you must accept whatever alternate arrangements are offered by the airline. Understand you are not entitled to any compensation or any amenities. Being that there are many affected by these events, it is likely that the airlines will do as much as possible to assist and reaccommodate passengers when the FAA allows flights to resume.

Currently, Air Canada, American, Continental, Delta, Midwest Express, National, Northwest, Southwest, Sun Country, United, and US Airways are letting passengers whose flights were disrupted by these acts make new flight plans without penalty. If you have questions regarding reservations, contact the airlines via their toll-free reservations centers and city ticket offices. Please refrain from going to the airport until the airlines have provided further clarification on their flight schedules.

Most hotels will let you cancel without penalty if you call before 6 p.m. on the date of arrival. However, this policy varies depending upon the city and hotel rate reserved. Hilton Hotels, for example, issued a statement stating that they are committed to flexibility and are working cooperatively with guests and customers during this difficult time. Hilton has set a policy that cancellation or "no show" fees will not be imposed for any reservation scheduled for September 11 through September 16, nor will early departure charges be imposed for any departures on September 11 through 16. Additionally, cancellation charges or penalties will not be imposed for any group, social, or other event between September 11 and October 31.

HotelQuest International ( is providing its customers with easy access to refunds and cancellations by implementing a new toll-free customer request telephone number (800-600-6333). The company is working with its hotel partners to streamline all refund requests for customers who are unable to get to their designated hotels because of the nationwide stoppage of all commercial flights.

Priceline and Hotwire have issued statements on how they will handle the situation in light of these events. Priceline issued a statement stating that they are working with the airlines to determine their policies on changes and cancellations. Priceline customers currently in the middle of their trip should contact the airline directly. For all other questions, contact at 800-774-2354. spokesperson Brian Ek says, "Customers should give us a call. We are working with customers regardless of air, hotel, or rental car itinerary."

Hotwire has advised its customers to contact the airline they are booked on for further details. Hotwire states: "All Hotwire tickets will be honored to the best of our ability once regular air travel resumes." Hotwire spokesperson Amy Bohutinsky adds, "Full refunds will be issued for Hotwire customers holding air, hotel, [and] car reservations traveling between now (September 11) and Sunday. As for after Sunday, we will evaluate at that time whether to extend."

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