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What should I do if my flight is canceled or delayed?




(CNN) – It has been a tough struggle for some air travelers here during the winter holidays – and it may not be over soon.

With reference to the increase in cases of Omicron variants and in some cases bad weather, airlines have canceled and delayed thousands of flights since December 23.

While most flights are still in progress, what if you’re one of the unlucky passengers? Here are some tips to help travelers navigate the system when flights are delayed or canceled, whether due to staff shortages, weather or other issues:

Avoid getting caught at the airport

As bad as it is to find out that your flight has been delayed for a long time, or even worse, canceled, it is better to find out from home or in a hotel room and make new arrangements from there.

“Check your flight status before heading to the airport. Most of these alerts do not happen at the last minute,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Save yourself the drive to the airport.”
Keyes told CNN Travel in an interview on Monday that you should sign up for the airlines’ free text alerts about the status of flights when you buy a ticket. You should also download the operator’s app.

You can also enter your airline and flight number directly into a Google search bar to retrieve the status that way. It is also useful for friends or family who are on standby to pick you up.

Keyes also suggested checking out the FlightAware website to track major aviation trends across the country.

If you are already at the airport

A flight information display system shows departure times at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, Monday, December 27th.

A flight information display system shows departure times at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, Monday, December 27th.

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Sometimes there are delays and cancellations after you arrive at the airport. Once the bad news has been delivered, what should you do?

Keyes said go as fast as you can to the airline’s agent’s desk – and get ready to multitask while standing in line.

Fast is a key word here. “It’s going to make a difference who comes first. It’s first come first served. Placing yourself close to your desk can pay off,” Keyes said.

Then call your carrier while you wait. Depending on where you stand in the queue, it can be faster to get through to a customer center. “No matter what happens first, great,” he said.

Calls to US domestic numbers can have very long waiting times. Keyes suggested trying an international call center for your carrier instead.

“Most US-based travelers do not think about calling the Canadian Delta Helpline. You can get in touch with an agent much faster. They can all handle your reservations in the same way.”

You can also use a self-service kiosk, says American Airlines. “Scan your boarding pass or enter the mail finder to see your updated travel details. From there, you can also change planes and print the new boarding passes.”

Attitude and research mean something

Passengers are waiting in line to check in on their planes at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, Monday, December 27th.

Passengers are waiting in line to check in on their planes at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, Monday, December 27th.

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Whether you’re dealing with an agent in person or over the phone, how you relate to things can make a big difference. It starts with attitude.

“Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” Keyes said. “Look at this from the airline’s agents’ perspective. They’ve really been in touch with annoyed customers since the pandemic began. The agent is the one who has the greatest ability to help you.

“Asking nicely and sympathetically is far more likely to get what you want than to be a jerk about it.”

He had another tip when it’s your turn to talk to an agent about making new arrangements: “Come prepared to offer your own options already. Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.”

Your agent can speed things up if you have already set up new routes and possible suggestions while you wait. Be ready to explain what you want.

If you have booked through Expedia or another third party website, you will need to shop through them when there is a cancellation.

If the price is the same, Keyes suggested that you book directly with the airline. In case something goes wrong, “it makes it much more complicated with multiple sets of guidelines” when ordering through a third party.

US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, suggests avoiding stays when booking if possible. The more times you stop, the greater the chance that something will go wrong.

The group also supports Keyes’ advice to be kind and polite to agents, but also says that consumers should be persistent in trying to resolve the situation satisfactorily.

Caught for the night

A woman and a child are waiting for the plane with another traveler at Miami International Airport on Monday 27 December.

A woman and a child are waiting for the plane with another traveler at Miami International Airport on Monday 27 December.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

What do you do if it looks like you’ll not be able to fly out until the next day and you’re not in your hometown?

“Ask the airline to put you in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They can do it, maybe not. It’s not required by law,” Keyes said.

They are less likely to do so if it is weather related, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical problem with the aircraft or manning issues.

Get to know politics. Delta Air Lines, for example, says that they will give a hotel voucher in some circumstances if the journey is interrupted for more than four hours after the scheduled departure time when the delay is between 22.00 and 06.00

Whatever you do, at least ask, Keyes said. A coupon for hotels and even ground transportation and meals will probably not just be offered.

You should also look up your credit card information. Keyes said your card may have passenger protection, including free hotel rooms if you are stranded and may even cover the food and taxi to the hotel. See what you need to do to get a refund.

If your flight is delayed instead of canceled directly, you may want to consider waiting at the airport. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may be easier to search down there for five or six hours than to walk to and from a hotel. Also, Keyes said, check if there is a hotel at the airport.

The Points Guy advises you to try to get into an airport lounge if you can, where you can charge your phone and rest easier.

Cancel the trip and fly later

“If you plan to fly within the next week and worry about Omicron, airlines are offering free changes to your flight,” Keyes said. “If you want to change your travel dates, you can change without penalty.”

He also noted that if the new travel dates are cheaper, you can get travel credit. (Conversely, you pay more if the flight is more expensive.)

“By switching flights from holidays to February, you are less likely to encounter this Omicron situation. You can save yourself a few hundred dollars.”

Refund rights for your flight

The US Department of Transportation states that you are entitled to a refund of your ticket cost due to a cancellation or “significant delay” and you choose not to travel.

These are the guidelines regardless of the reason why the airlines cancel or delay the flight. What “significant delay” is, however, open to interpretation.

According to the DOT website, “it has not specifically defined what constitutes a” significant delay. “Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors – including the length of the delay, the length of the flight and your special circumstances. The DOT determines whether you is entitled to reimbursement after a significant delay on a case-by-case basis. “

CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Jordan Valinsky, Chris Liakos and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.



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