It’s that time of year. Airports are busy, flights are full, and winter weather is in full force.
Delays and cancellations can be frustrating and leave you feeling hopeless. While you are typically at the mercy of the airline you are traveling on, sometimes there are steps you can take.
Keep in mind that airlines are not required to book you a hotel room or issue vouchers if your flight is delayed or canceled due to inclement weather. The trick is to proactively monitor the weather and keep an eye out for airline travel alerts. Airlines will regularly issue free flight change waivers if weather is expected. The sooner you make changes to your itinerary, the better.
If your delay or cancelation is caused due to crew staffing issues or mechanical problems, the airline is on the hook to take care of you. This means they will need to provide reasonable compensation for food and/or provide a hotel room if you are stranded overnight.
So what can you do if your flight is delayed or canceled?
If you flight is canceled, chances are that all the other 150+ passengers are also going to be looking to get on the next flight out. Some passengers will be reaccommodated automatically, but most passengers will have to reach out to the airline directly to be rebooked. Moving quickly can mean you get to your destination a few hours later, versus a few days later.
Most airlines have upgraded their phone apps to assist with travel changes. If your flight is delayed or canceled, you might just see a prompt to select an alternate itinerary. Go ahead and swap your flight(s) if they look as if they meet your needs. Performing the change within the app will save you both time and effort.
Travelers that have airline status are often given a special phone number they can call to get an agent on the phone. For example, this summer, when I had a delay on American, the regular customer service phone number had wait times in excess of three hours. When I called the dedicated AAdvantage desk, I was able to speak with an agent in less than ten minutes. If you have status, be sure to leverage this benefit.
If I do not have status on the airline I’m flying, or I’m onboard an airplane that is delayed, the first thing I will often do is Tweet the airline’s customer support handle for help. These representatives sometimes have a better idea of what is happening with flights and can advise you if your flight is likely to be delayed further or canceled. Some airlines also have Twitter representatives who
can assist with rebooking or can put in a call-back request for a ticketing agent to call you directly—both solutions are almost always faster than your calling the airline directly.
Airline lounges have “super agents” who can help with rebooking and accommodations. If you have lounge access, head there for assistance with a delayed or canceled flight. It is an added bonus that you can relax in a quiet place with food and drinks. If your flight is delayed for several hours, it might just be worth buying a day pass to an airline lounge for $59 (American/United/Delta). Keep in mind that third-party lounges, such as the American Express Centurion Lounge, do not have dedicated airline agents and cannot assist with flight reservations.
If your flight is delayed or canceled, there are a few things that I recommend you do before speaking with an airline agent.
First, do a quick search for alternate flight options to your destination. Note these so you can request a change when speaking with an agent. Some airlines have agreements that allow them to issue you a ticket on a different carrier. However, this is not always the case, especially on low-cost carriers such as Southwest and jetBlue.
If your flight is canceled, you can request a full refund. This applies even if you purchased a non-refundable ticket.
If your flight is delayed, you can ask to be put on the next available flight. If you are connecting to another flight, you can also ask to be ‘protected’ on the next connecting flight. This means that they will save you a seat on the next connecting flight to ensure that you will fly out if you miss your original connection. There is nothing worse than getting stranded mid-trip in a far-away destination.
Many credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, now offer trip-delay benefits to cardholders. Some provide up to $500 for lodging, meals, and other incidental expenses. The delay threshold (how long your flight must be delayed by) varies from card to card. If you do decide to pursue a reimbursement, hold on to your receipts, as they will be required when you file your claim. The claim process can sometimes take 3-6 weeks, but it is worth the effort.
If you are traveling solely within the United States, airlines are not required by law for delayed or canceled flights. If you are traveling to Europe on an EU airline, or from Europe on an EU or non-EU airline, the regulations change drastically and you may be entitled to compensation.
However, all hope is not lost. I have found that if you are polite to airline employees, you can often get some sort of compensation for a delay or cancelation. The type and amount will vary based on the airline, your status, and the length of the trip, but something is certainly better than nothing.
In my travels, I have been offered $250 in airline vouchers, airport meal vouchers, and free hotels as a result of flight complications. Just remember to follow up with a gate agent or airline
representative online, over the phone, or via Twitter for help.
As you can imagine, these types of issues can be extremely complex and frustrating. I’m always here to help. Simply shoot me a quick email -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- and I’ll get back to you.