Last week, if you happened to be trying to fly anywhere along the Northeast corridor, more than likely, you experienced flight delays and/or cancellations. Although I've been fortunate to travel often, miraculously I've never had a flight cancelled. But last week, even after boarding, checking our luggage, and seeing the cabin door firmly shut, it happened to us. Luckily as a seasoned traveller, I knew what I needed to do, and so I was able to move quickly to put that knowledge to use to find a way home for my family. Here are 5 things to keep in mind should you get stranded:
1. Remain Calm and Be Nice: In the midst of the chaos, this is harder to do than you might imagine. Also, when, like in our case, cancellations are widespread, there is only so much the ticket agents and customer service can do. Hint: Screaming at them never helps. Also, keep in mind that most carriers automatically rebook you on the next available flight and, most likely, before you reach the agent at the counter, you will receive an email notification with your new flight arrangements. If you have a flexible travel itinerary and that option works for you, you have no need to join the chaos at the ticket counter. If it doesn't, get in line.
2. Waste No Time While In Line and Delegate: CALL your carrier immediately even though the call wait time may be what seems like forever. After all, you've got nowhere else to go. If you have people traveling with you, have someone get online and check flights that might work for you so that when you either get to the counter or to the agent on the phone, you have something to offer them. If driving is an option, send someone to the car rental counter and get someone else to start calling local hotels so that you are not sleeping on an airport floor.
3. Be Flexible and Creative: Chances are, especially when cancellations are widespread, you won't be particularly happy with most of your options. Be open to rerouting, to an airline change or get creative. If it's possible to reach your destination another way, then "Planes, Trains and Automobile" it. For us, the choice was to wait two days for a flight or drive the six hours. We rented a car and were on our way. Problem solved.
4. Be Aware of Your Rights as a Passenger: All airlines have a "Passenger Bill of Rights" and "Rules of Carriage." Know what you are covered for and what you can ask for. IF cancellations are weather related and acts of God, the airlines owe you almost nothing. While in line, I can't tell you the number of people fighting with ticket agents for refunds, hotel vouchers, reimbursement for car rentals etc. Think about it; if the airlines reimbursed every person for food, travel, and shelter due to cancellations from weather, they would be out of business. However, if the airlines can't accommodate you with something you feel is reasonable, go ahead and ask them to refund the fare. When asked nicely, they often will. Not only did I have the flights refunded, but also they were able to get my son, whom due to our cancellation would miss a connecting flight back to school the next day, on a flight that left the next evening. Also, I was able to do all of this with an agent on the phone, whom I reached long before getting to the agent at the counter.
5. Enroll in Loyalty Programs and/or Use Airline Linked Credit Cards: I really believed that this helps. As a credit card holder that is linked to my airline, I believe we got better service. Also, having a profile on line, along with being a frequent flyer made the job easier for the agent because he could pull up all of our information easily. There is no charge to enroll in loyalty programs or create a profile, and credit cards linked to airlines vary in their yearly fees including some that are free. In our case, our card has a yearly fee but having the card allows us free checked bags. We offset the card fee quickly, as baggage fees just seem to get worse and worse. Also, having the card allows us access to the "clubs" in the airports where waiting out delays and cancellations with free food and clean bathrooms definitely helps.
Remember, be flexible, know your options and be prepared to get creative. It's an adventure. We actually discovered a fantastic hotel the night our flight was cancelled and had a fun family road trip home. Bon Voyage!