By Chris | February 10, 2008
Recently, my Uncle and his family flew to Idaho to visit for for the weekend. They switched planes in Salt Lake City and were half-way to Idaho Falls before their plane was turned around at about 9:00 p.m. Rain was freezing on the runway in Idaho Falls and it was deemed too dangerous for the plane to land. The airline gave the passengers vouchers for discounted hotel rooms and asked them to come back the next day. My determined Uncle badgered the ticket agent until she gave him what amounted to a 60 dollar gift card for airport food vendors. However, both legally and under company policy, the airline is under no obligation to compensate travelers when delays are caused by inclement weather. Is that a good policy? I drove to the airport that night and the roads weren’t particularly slick. While I’m not an aeronautics expert, the plane likely would have been able to land safely. If planes crash, the airline is legally liable for damages. If planes don’t reach their intended destination, the airline isn’t liable for any of the associated costs. This provides an incentive for the airline to be far too risk averse. My Uncle and his family ended up renting a car and driving for four hours on snowy roads in the wee hours of the morning. Was this alternative safer than landing on the runway? Did the danger of landing outweigh the costs born by the passengers left stranded? I don’t know. The airline didn’t care.