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Originally published Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 7:01 PM

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Stranded by weather? Air Canada will find room at the inn — for a fee

Air Canada's "On My Way" program protects passengers whose flights are disrupted for any reason within 48 hours of departure. Severe weather is the usual reason, but it could be anything.

Seattle Times travel writer

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What do airlines owe you if you're left stranded by weather, air traffic problems or another emergency that causes your flight to be delayed or canceled?

Here in the United States, not much of anything except a rebooking or refund for a canceled flight.

Hotel rooms? Meals? Cab fare?

Strictly at the airlines' discretion. Most will provide a hotel room if a mechanical problem forces an overnight stay, but not when weather interferes.

Just ask the passengers stranded when Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air canceled and pre-cancelled flights during last winter's ice and snow storms, or the thousands who slept in airports after tornadoes in Texas forced American Airlines and American Eagle to cancel 1,900 flights in April.

It's a different story in Europe, where European Commission regulation 261 says that when a flight is delayed or canceled for any reason, airlines must provide meals during waiting times, and assistance with phone calls — and for cancellations or reroutings that require overnight stays, a hotel and transportation to get to it.

The law applies to any airline flying to or from a state in the European Union — meaning a Lufthansa flight from Seattle to Frankfurt would be covered — and any airlines (including U.S. airlines) flying out of Europe, e.g. a Delta flight from Amsterdam to Seattle. (Remember this the next time a volcano blows in Iceland or a snowstorm shuts down European airports.)

Some types of delays and cancellations also qualify passengers to claim financial penalties. You'll find information on foreign airline websites. British Airways offers a clear explanation at www.britishairways.com. Scroll to the bottom of the home page and click on "Legal," then on "Flight cancellation and compensation."

No such laws cover airlines flying strictly within the U.S. or Canada, but one airline — Air Canada — has come up with a clever way to spread some goodwill. There's a price, of course, but it's small — likely enough to cover the airline's cost without leaving travelers feeling dinged.

Air Canada's "On My Way" program covers passengers whose flights are disrupted for any reason within 48 hours of departure. Severe weather is the usual reason, but it could be anything.

If flights are canceled, passengers get rebooking on the first available flight, even if it's on another airline. If that's not possible, there's the option of free car rental, a benefit to anyone who would rather drive home than wait for the weather to clear.

Meal allowances are provided for delays longer than four hours, and the airline provides hotel rooms for disruptions requiring overnight stays. The details are spelled out at www.aircanada.com. Click on "Information & Services" and scroll down to "Book and enhance your travel."

"On My Way" is good only for flights within North America, including Alaska and Hawaii. The cost is $25 each way for trips up to 1,000 miles and $35 for long-haul travel. Given that most airlines charge that much for checking a bag, this is one fee that seems to offer good value.

Gambling on late arrivals

In the "What will they think of next?" department, two European discounter airlines have come up with a way for their passengers to bet against the chances of their flight arriving on time.

For 24 euros ($30), Air Baltic will give you a voucher worth double what you paid for your ticket, including fuel surcharges, if its flight arrives at your destination more than one hour late.

For 10 euros ($13), Wizz Air, a discounter based in Budapest, gives passengers a 100 euro ($130) credit on flights delayed two or more hours. Good thing they're not taking bets on how long they will be in business. It's not been a good year for the discounters.

Spanair suspended flights in January and Malev, another Hungarian discounter, shut down in February. Air Australia grounded its fleet in February.

Carry-on bag fee

Closer to home, Las Vegas-based discounter Allegiant Air, which flies in and out of Bellingham, joined Spirit Airlines in charging fees for carry-on bags. Allegiant's fee is between $10 and $35, depending on the flight and whether payment is made online or at the airport.

Have a question or comment on travel? Contact Carol Pucci: cpucci@ seattletimes.com. On Twitter @carolpucci.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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