Flying has never been a completely stress-free experience, but lately it has been worse than usual.
Weather has always caused delays and cancellations, but add to that staff shortages, plus a surge in demand thanks to lifted COVID-19 restrictions, and it’s like someone opened a portal to travel hell.
All of this is to say that you should expect some turbulence with your future travel plans. On that note: your upcoming flight might be delayed or cancelled. In fact, maybe that just happened, and that’s why you’re reading this. In this situation, it’s hard not to panic as you envision your blissful vacation slipping away. But it’s not a lost cause. Here’s what to do when your flight is cancelled.
ABCFS (Always Be Checking Flight Status)
If your flight was already canceled, this is the obligatory annoying part where I tell you something you should have done: Leading up to your flight, knowing exactly when your flight is cancelled is important to next steps, so it’s a good idea to sign up for text alerts with your airline, and look to resources like FlightAware and FlightView to get the most accurate and up-to-date information.
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If your flight was cancelled, that means everyone who was on your flight, and probably other flights if it’s weather-related, is also scrambling to book something new.
“You can’t be indecisive in the face of delays and cancellations,” writes Summer Hull for The Points Guy. “If you are, expect your options to dwindle; once you finally decide, you will be at the mercy of whatever options the airline has to offer… which may not be great.”
Even if you don’t think you’re current options are great, it’s better to lock something in lest you end up with no options at all.
The first thing you need to decide is if you’re going to work with the airline or third party platform you originally booked with in order to get a new flight, or independently book a new flight, and get a refund for the original flight. Here’s where the multitasking comes in.
As soon as you find out your flight is cancelled, it’s time to spring into action and gather information as fast as possible. This requires a multi-pronged approach to finding an available and receptive form of customer service, since it’s likely you’ll have to wait no matter what method you’re trying. That’s why it’s best to take the “all of the above” approach.
Go to the counter
If you’re in the unfortunate position of being at the airport when your flight is cancelled, haul ass to the counter. Remember that your options are increasingly limited and it’s important to act fast.
Call the airline
At the same time, get on the phone with the airline or booking platform. There’s likely to be a long line of customers at the counter and on hold, so be ready to pick whichever comes first. Hot tip from The Points Guy: try dialing an international number for service, since there might be less of a wait time.
Whilst waiting in line at the counter and on hold with customer service, go online. See if you can connect with customer service over chat. In the meantime, start researching your options with the original airline/booking platform as well as other flight options in case you find a better flight and you have the means to buy while you wait for a refund.
Go on Twitter
As a direct channel for communication, Twitter might work faster than a customer service hotline. But, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Publicly shaming airlines might not get the best response. What does work is sending a polite and humanizing direct message. Airline Twitter accounts are managed by real people and are likely to want to help if you’re not rage-tweeting at them.
You catch more flies with honey…
This applies to every method that involves speaking with a real human person. Despite how infuriating the situation is, try and put yourself in their shoes. Your cancelled flight is completely beyond their control and they’re just trying to do their job. Be kind and patient as you explain your situation. Whoever you’re talking with will sympathize with your plight and want to help you out.
Know what you’re entitled to
Let’s say you’ve decided to book another flight on your own. Perhaps it’s urgent and the airline’s options don’t work. Or maybe you’ve found a decently-priced flight that doesn’t involve a terrible layover.
If this is the case and you choose to cancel your trip, The U.S. Department of Transportation says, “You are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”
Because of the pandemic, airlines are feeling the pinch and don’t want to shell out refunds. You might even start to feel bad for them, but don’t, because they’ll try and manipulate you into accepting a voucher or points instead of a refund. Don’t fall for this. As The Points Guy reports, some airlines are making it more difficult by removing references of this policy from their website. But even if it isn’t explicitly mentioned, you are still entitled to it.
The best option is to get on the phone with a representative. If they try and entice you with something else, stand your ground, or hang up and connect with a different representative.
If all else fails, the consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG Education Fund recommends filing a complaint with the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection. “They will do what they can to remedy the situation. They will review the complaint, get a response from the airline and enforce any rules that have been violated.”