When your flight is cancelled due to weather or other issues, you often feel powerless to fix the situation but that doesn't mean you don't have any legal rights.
To be clear, airlines don't guarantee flight times and it's better to be delayed or cancelled than to fly in unsafe conditions. You can't stop an airline from cancelling your flight and you probably don't want to.
But with all the people stranded by Hurricane Sandy it's a good time to remember that even if your flight doesn't take off according to schedule, there are some things you can do.
When you buy an airline ticket, you make a contract with the airline. You pay for the right to travel to a certain city on a plane, preferably with that carrier.
The airline doesn't guarantee a time or day but you are entitled to get a flight in exchange for your money. Even if you don't take off on time the airline should make every effort to rebook you as soon as possible given weather conditions and available seating.
Rebooking should be available at no extra charge. You've already paid for the flight so a cancellation means the airline needs to find you a new seat to fulfill its end of the deal.
Contrary to popular belief, airlines aren't required to compensate you for the delay if your flight doesn't take off on time. While many are willing to provide meal or hotel vouchers if you have to stay overnight, they don't have to do so.
Still, it never hurts to ask. Plus, many airlines are happy to make you more comfortable if they can.
The real problem with delayed or cancelled flights is making it to your destination in time to enjoy whatever you're going to visit.
If a flight delay or cancellation means you'll be waiting a long time, you can ask to have your ticket endorsed to another carrier. Airlines are sometimes reluctant to do that but depending on the circumstances and the carrier they may be willing to accommodate you.
Keep in mind that the law isn't the only thing protecting you when your flight is delayed or cancelled. The airline's policies may entitle you to change carriers or be reimbursed for the missed flight. Check the fine print to see what you can do.