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Can airlines cancel your flight suddenly without notice?

Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 2,000 flights over the weekend without notice. Yes, it's allowed, but passengers have rights. Here's what you can do.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With Southwest Airlines canceling thousands of flights, passengers nationwide are scrambling to get where they're going on time. 

So, what are your rights when this happens? Can an airline cancel your flight and leave you stranded without compensation?

The short answer is yes, they can. Ticket reservations have terms and conditions on them, and in defense of the airlines, it's hard to predict future events like weather, fuel prices and the effects of a global pandemic. 

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It's really aggravating when you book your ticket, plan your trip and then suddenly, the airline cancels your flight. 

"Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled," said Stephanie Haney, a legal analyst for WKYC in Cleveland, a TEGNA sister station to WCNC Charlotte.

Can customers complain and get action on the spot? Or are they stuck? 

After a slew of bad stories, like overflowing toilets while waiting on the tarmac for hours, Congress enacted the Passenger Bill of Rights. According to the Department of Transportation, in the case of sudden cancellations, "Airlines don't guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip."

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing money@wcnc.com.

As for delays or long waits on the tarmac? 

"Airlines are required to offer water and snacks if it has been at least two hours since you have been waiting on the tarmac," said Scott Keys, who runs ScottsCheapFlights.com. "Thankfully, they are much rarer than they used to be, rewind a decade ago when they were a lot more common."

For the most part, too much is out of the airlines' control. Bigger companies may be easier to deal with because they have more flexibility and deals with other airlines to make your flight time possible if there's a cancellation. 

Contact Bill McGinty at bmcginty@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook.

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