Our holiday travels usually keep us out of the may lay but I wanted to be a team player and finish tasks by weeks end. With travel picking up, two years post COVID, Memorial Weekend 2022 was bound to be eventful. We were met in long term parking with massive lines just to catch the airport shuttle to the terminal. Clue #1.
BWI was overrun with Memorial weekend traffic. By 4 am Saturday, checking in already seemed overwhelming. Lines like you would not imagine snaked from check-in kiosks to airline counter baggage drop off. If you flew out this past weekend and did not give yourself ample time you may have set yourself up for a very discouraging start to your summer vacation.
Coming back from Aruba on Wednesday was less eventful. We had our check-in docs uploaded and we’re able to download our boarding passes which many travelers admitted to experiencing issues with. We were able to skip the extensive check-in line and proceed directly to our gate and US Customs.
Our connection in Charlotte was where we started our adventure. The gate change was the initial red flag, followed by the hour delayed boarding call. Our plane was right there, loading luggage when American Airlines announced that their First Officer was delayed. We boarded to only deplane an hour later because he was ‘no longer’ available. I was on my AA chat doing God’s work instantaneously.
It would be 2 hours before we were issued our hotel, travel and food vouchers. Here’s what I know to be true in regards to travel mishaps and flight cancellations. Flight disruptions can be caused by any number of factors including inclement weather, heavy air traffic, security issues and in our case, labor shortages.
Take a deep breath and follow these steps to reschedule your flight or get a refund.
#1. Maintain a positive attitude
Travel disruptions can ruin anyone’s otherwise sunny disposition. But it behooves you to be polite and respectful to those trying to assist you, whether in person, on the phone or over social media. They will do more for you with a simple sign of appreciation. They want to help you but trust me, they will shut down if you are demanding, aggressive or nasty towards them.
Doing these simple things will increase your chances of being accommodated and may even lead to an upgrade on your next flight. If agents have an airplane leaving with an empty seat during IROPS (irregular operations), they will do everything they can to put you on that plane and reduce the number of stranded passengers later in the day.
2. Get in line to speak with an agent
In the event of a delay, the best thing to do is everything. Be proactive, get in line to talk with an agent; while waiting, pick up your phone, call your travel agent, or your travel insurance provider if you have those resources. If not, try to rebook yourself through the airline’s app, by phone or by using your Twitter or Facebook account to contact the airline’s customer service team.
Typically, if your flight is canceled the majority of airlines will rebook you on the next flight available to your destination at no additional cost. However, depending on why your flight is canceled, finding seats on a new flight may be difficult and your arrival time may be delayed significantly.
As a traveler, you’ll need to decide if the timing will work for your plans, or if you’ll need to request a refund for future travel.
While you’re waiting to speak with someone, also research your airline’s partner carriers, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Take American Airlines [which is what we recently were cancelled on]. If you are traveling to Europe and there’s a problem on one of their flights, you can request they put you on British Airways.
#3 Passenger rights for domestic flights
In the event of a cancellation, the DOT states airlines are required to provide a refund for unused transportation. In the event there are flight delays, options depend on the reason for the flight disruption. If the delay is caused by a mechanical issue, check your airline’s contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline, for details on your rights.
If the delay or cancellation of a domestic flight is caused by an Act of God (typically defined as an uncontrollable natural event such a tornado or flood), there are no federal regulations that require an airline to accommodate you. However, many airlines will still do their best to help you.
There are passenger rights for international flights. Robust regulations protect travelers who are flying to Europe on a European Union carrier or out of the EU. Disruptions caused by extraordinary circumstances out of the airlines’ control are not covered, such as weather conditions or political unrest.
However, a European law known as EC 261 requires that airlines reimburse passengers between 250 to 600 euros depending on how long the flight has been delayed and the expected distance of the flight. The law also ensures passengers are compensated if they’re denied boarding. Additionally, passengers will be reimbursed for cancellations that occur within 14 days of their scheduled departure that cause them to get to their final destination two-plus hours after their original arrival time.
Services like AirHelp make it easy for travelers to file complex compensation claims and follow up with legal action. As payment, the company takes a percentage of the compensation recovered as their fee.
#4 Get an airfare refund when it’s your best option
The DOT says if a flight is canceled for any reason and the traveler chooses not to be rebooked on that airline, regardless of whether or not you booked a refundable ticket, the passenger is entitled to a full refund. You may even be entitled to a refund for a flight delay, depending on the circumstances. Accept a refund and rebook when it works for you. To decrease the chance of paying more for your rebooked flight, reschedule your trip during an off-peak travel time when seats are readily available. Or, choose a competitive route with similar airfares.
#5 Review your airline’s cancellation policy
Depending on your airline, flight cancellation policies vary. Use the links below to find more information on the cancellation policies and passenger rights details for each of the top U.S.-based airlines.
- Alaska Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- United Airlines
Since there is a more robust Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights currently under consideration by Congress, stay up to date on passenger rights by visiting the DOT’s online Fly Rights guide.
#6 Take advantage of the airport’s offerings
Major airports have invested heavily in lounge areas, dining options (including craft breweries and wineries), shopping, spas, play areas for kids, art exhibits and more. At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, achey travelers can even get a chiropractic adjustment at The Chiroport. You might as well make good use of these amenities while you’re stuck at the airport.
#7 Strategically Apply for Compensation From the Airlines
In the U.S., one of the few events that triggers airline compensation is involuntary denied boarding (or “bumping” a passenger from an oversold flight). Compensation ranges from meal vouchers to flight coupons valued at up to $1,550. (Exact values vary depending on how long after your original arrival time it’ll take an airline to get you to your destination. Find more information on the DOT website.) But remember, there are many loopholes.
Before accepting a voucher or another non-cash offer, understand its face value and the terms and conditions for use, especially during international travels. Ask what caused your flight delay or cancellation, keep a written log of events and save boarding passes, travel itineraries, receipts and any other documentation to file a claim.
#8. How to avoid flight cancellations and delays
– Fly in the morning
Historically, fewer flight cancellations occur between 6 a.m. and noon.
– Avoid weekend travel
Fly on off-peak days like Tuesday or Wednesday. You’ll often find cheaper flights on these days, too.
- Opt for longer layovers
If you need to take more than one flight to reach your destination, book a flight with a longer layover to provide enough time to make your connecting flight. Keep in mind, at some airports you may need go through security or customs.
For longer journeys, you can reduce the risk of missing connecting flights by planning a city stopover. For example, Icelandair offers Iceland stopovers for no additional airfare.
- Consider a credit card with travel perks
Premium credit cards often provide complimentary travel perks, such as access to an airport lounge with food, drinks and Wi-Fi access for staying productive and/or keeping antsy kids happy during delays. Some credit cards also offer concierge service to help rebook flights or built-in trip insurance to cover unforeseen expenses.
The Platinum Card from American Express offers travel insurance that reimburses some nonrefundable expenses like hotel accommodations, meals and other essentials as long as the trip was purchased using that card.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card has similar protections. Always check the credit card contract’s fine print for details on the card’s coverage terms and conditions.
- Talk to a travel advisor
In the event of a flight delay or cancellation, travel advisors have a number of tools to assist.
If we anticipate flight delays due to weather, for example, travel advisors receive advance waivers so they can select alternative flights before they sell out.
If you didn’t purchase flights through a travel advisor, Cranky Concierge’s Urgent Assistance plan – which costs $100 per one-way journey – helps travelers recover from flight changes within 24 hours of departure and assists with compensation claims.
– Sign up for flight notifications
Late flight departures can have ripple effects on connecting flights or cruise ship embarkations, so sign up for airline alerts when you purchase a ticket.
The DOT requires that airlines notify passengers of any schedule changes, such as those being made as a result of COVID-19 concerns, on their websites and telephone reservation systems within seven days of departure. For the latest flight information and delays, visit your airline’s website.
- On your departure date, check your flight status before heading to the airport.
You can check for flight cancellations and delays online using the airline’s app or a third-party app like FlightAware Flight Tracker (which also offers a website) or TripIt Pro. The latter of these two stores your travel itinerary for added convenience. Delays of 30 minutes or longer will show on the airport’s flight status displays, but these apps often send real-time alerts sooner and help keep you informed wherever you are at the airport. When coping with a flight disruption, timing is everything.
- Consider travel insurance
Travel insurance is a must for travelers who want to protect their investment. Depending on the length of your delay and your coverage, travel insurance may reimburse you for lost prepaid expenses, as well as costs you incur because of the delay, including meals, accommodations, communication and transportation.
Covered reasons include a travel carrier delay and loss or theft of travel documents, among other scenarios. Coverage varies with delays due to COVID-19, so it is important to check with your provider.
- Avoid checking luggage
Travelers who only travel with a carry on and/or personal item (such as a backpack or purse) will have the most flexibility in rebooking. Some carriers will try to move checked luggage to a later flight for you and will make every effort to keep you and your belongings together. However, when airlines don’t have interline agreements with other carriers, you’ll have to allow enough time to retrieve and recheck your own luggage.
Since arriving home, I’ve submitted our claim to AirHelp (www.airhelp.com) for our cancelled flight. They do charge what I consider to be a nominal fee ($25) if they settle and win my claim. There is no charge if we are not awarded anything. I think it’s worth the fee since they’re doing the legwork. Anyway … we’ll keep you posted on the outcome.
Until next time … Safe Travels!