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Has your flight been canceled or delayed? Here’s what to do

There’s only so much passengers can do to avoid flight changes. Here are some expert tips to get compensated.

The Fourth of July is here, and thousands of flights have been delayed or canceled over the busy travel weekend.

Nearly 48 million people were expected to travel 50 miles or more from home in the country during the holiday weekend, according to AAA, while travel app Hopper estimated that nearly 13 million people were expected to fly from U.S. airports during that time.

The busy travel season comes at a time when flights across the country are being delayed or canceled more than ever. A decade ago, roughly 79,000 flights were canceled by major U.S. airlines in 2012, according to aviation data compiled by Statista, a provider of market and consumer data. The number of cancellations peaked in 2020 at 281,000 primarily because of the pandemic, and 103,000 flights were canceled in 2021, the data shows.

Seema Mody, a CNBC global markets correspondent, told TODAY last week that the surge in delays and cancellations is due to the airline industry being strapped for resources while simultaneously dealing with a larger volume of travel. And the problems don't appear to be going away anytime soon, she said.

"There's that ongoing pilot shortage," she said, "plus airlines haven't brought back all their planes, so that's contributing to more delays and cancellations."

Related: Tips to prepare for flight changes

Mody said that there's only so much passengers can do to avoid flight changes. Her biggest piece of advice is to make sure you know your flight schedule — including other flights that are available that day. "That way you know your options if something happens to your flight," she said.

It's also important to know what options airlines are lawfully bound to provide and how to access them. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

If my flight is canceled, am I entitled to a refund?

The short answer is yes. But accepting a rebooking option voids the refund that the airline would otherwise have to provide.

"But if that itinerary doesn’t work for you, by law you are entitled to a full refund," Mody said. Every airline has a different policy. For example, she said that JetBlue will provide a $50 credit if your flight is canceled within four hours of departure. "That goes up to $100 if your flight is canceled after the time of departure," she said.

Do delays come with some type of compensation?

There is no law requiring airlines to compensate passengers for delays, so most do not, according to Mody.

"The minute your flight is delayed, get in that line to talk to a flight agent, and at the same time, take out your phone and call the airline," she recommended. "The phone agent can be even more helpful than the person at the airport."

When delays happen after boarding is completed, Mody said guidelines stipulate that airlines can keep passengers waiting on the tarmac for a maximum of three hours.

"But within two hours, you do have a right to food, water and access to the bathroom," she said.

What do I do if my flight is overbooked and I get involuntarily rebooked?

Moody said that if you're involuntarily unbooked from a flight, "there’s significant compensation."

For example, if the next flight you’re rebooked on is within one to two hours after your initial flight, "we’re talking 200% of a one-way fare that’s typically capped at around $775," she said. "Over two hours, 400% of a one-way ticket, usually around $1,500, is the cap."

What if my luggage is lost?

Mody said that by law, airlines are required to reimburse passengers if their luggage is lost up to a maximum of $3,800 for domestic trips.

She recommends taking a photo of the contents inside your luggage once you're packed so you can remember what's inside. "Often the airlines will require proof, so it’s good to just make sure you know," she said.

Mody said another tip is to get an Apple AirTag or tracking device.

"Drop it in that luggage," she said. "You can track your suitcase in real time. Often what happens is the airline can’t locate your bag, but if you can help them find it, then your success rate goes up."

What other compensation am I entitled to?

The U.S. Department of Transportation clearly states the circumstances in which passengers are entitled to refunds. That includes canceled flights, significant schedule changes that the passenger does not agree to, downgrading to an economy or lower class, baggage fees associated with lost luggage, or an optional service, like Wi-Fi or seat upgrades, that the airline was ultimately unable to provide.