There’s nothing quite as frustrating as wrestling your luggage through the airport obstacle course only to find that your flight has been cancelled. Even if you don’t have a connecting flight, chances are you chose your flight time for a reason. And though you can’t do anything about your cancelled flight, there are things you can do to get past it and get back on track.
You can make your cancellation experience much less painful if you head to the airport armed with information. Knowing your rights and the policies of your chosen airline can spare you an extended argument at the ticket counter with an airline employee who is exhausted and in no mood to help you.
In Fly Rights, a publication by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the agency points out that contrary to popular belief, airlines are in no way legally obligated to compensate their passengers for cancelled flights. Any compensation packages, be it in the form of vouchers or refunds, are issued only at the discretion of the individual airline.
Knowing that, you should carefully read the Contract of Carriage for your airline before booking your flight. The Contract of Carriage can usually be found at the very bottom of an airline’s home page amongst the microscopic links, sometimes under the Legal section. You may even want to print this information before heading to the airport. Having it in hand at the ticket counter could save you time and energy when it comes to rebooking.
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Being informed is a large part of flying smart, but don’t forget that careful planning can help you avoid the cancelled flight ripple effect. If you have a connecting flight, a big meeting or a cruise departure that you simply can’t miss, you might try booking your flight a few hours earlier than necessary. At least then, should your flight get cancelled, a later alternative will still get you where you need to be on time.
Rebook Like a Pro
If your flight is cancelled, the first thing your airline will do is try to get you on the next available flight…along with the other 200 people who are stuck with you. So the key to getting back on track before everyone else is to attack the situation from all angles all at once.
Multi-tasking is a must. As soon as you find out that your flight has been cancelled, dash to the nearest ticket counter (without knocking anyone down) and try to get on the next possible flight. If you’re waiting in line, call your airline’s reservation number and try to speak to a representative about rebooking.
We recommend that you also try Facebook and Twitter as a means of resolution. Airlines will actually monitor Twitter for customer service issues and in some cases respond directly to customer tweets. Simply tweet your airline (@United, @jetblue, @AmericanAir @DeltaAssist) with your ticket confirmation number and information about your desired flight and see if you get a response.
If you’re a frequent flyer or have an airlines rewards credit card then you’re probably entitled to some special privileges including use of the airline lounge. If you can get into the lounge, take advantage of the customer service reps at the counter there. The lines will likely be far shorter than the ticket counters at check-in or at the gate. Also, check with your rewards credit card company to see if they offer any special rebooking assistance.
Prepare for the Long Haul
If you’re caught in an extreme weather situation or a massive holiday weekend cancellation, there’s a good chance your next available flight won’t be until the next day or even later. Be prepared for this situation by packing and planning accordingly.
If you’re checking luggage be sure to pack everything you would need for an overnight stay in your carry-on luggage. Should you find yourself camping in the concourse or staying in a hotel, you don’t want to be without your toothbrush, deodorant and a change of underpants.
In certain circumstances, airlines might be feeling generous and supply you with a hotel voucher for the night as a means of apology. You can’t expect that kind of compensation all the time, but it never hurts to ask politely. If they refuse you (even after flashing your most winning smile) you can still count on last minute hotel help from websites like HotelTonight.com or the last minute sections of sites like Hotels.com or Travelocity to help you find something cheap and close.
In the end, having your flight cancelled is just plain irritating and inconvenient. All the preparation and know-how in the world can only help to make the situation slightly less stressful, but when you’re hanging by a thread, that can make all the difference. So stop flying blind and make sure you have a plan should the worst happen.
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