What to do if your flight is cancelled - Weather, mechanical, etc

bavaria

<font color=deeppink>Makes the best of both worlds
Joined
Jan 3, 2001
As it's the winter season, we are seeing a lot of posts about cancelled flights. Factor in the recent JetBlue mess, and there are a lot of different experiences.

Here are some thoughts from a frequent traveller. I've endured many many weather delays, an airport terminal fire, my family was delayed 5 days over 9/11, I sat on the tarmac in Munich during the '72 Olympic crisis, etc etc. In all that, I have never had to sleep in an airport....

Before your flight
  • reconfirm reconfrim reconfirm - we see often people saying 'I was on vacation and didn't realize....'. Back in the old days, we had to call and reconfirm flights. Nowadays that is discouraged, but is still good advice. Sign up for a paging/messaging service offered by the airline. United calls my cel phone to advise me of flight delays/cancels
  • if you ARE delayed, understand your options. Many legacy carriers 'interline' ie you can book a ticket on another airline and have it signed over. This may be an option to get to your destination, but is not always an option on low cost carriers
  • if you suspect bad weather, check out your airlines website. I did this while in Colorado during the Dec blizzards, and in the NW during the Dec hurricane force storms. United was offering no charge changes for the Denver issue; for the NW issue they had nothing posted, but I asked if I could fly out of a nearby city and they waived the fees for me
  • book a hotel room. Even if you may not use it, it pays to be prepared. If you see information on storms, book a room that can be cancelled (usually by 6pm on the day of arrival). I booked a room at Denver airport several nights in Dec/Jan due to the storms, and ended up using one at least once
  • call a friend. If you have a friend in the local area, ask if you can stay with them. I did this in Denver. During the Dorval fire, I tried to reach my friends in Montreal with no luck.

While at the airport
  • if you arrive and your fligth is cancelled or delayed, take action yourself. Don't wait for the airline to contact you - they are busy trying to solve 100's of passenger problems
  • call your airline right away and ask for options. I rebooked myself on a flight during the Dorval fire while standing in line at Air Canada with 100's of other people, and never even had to speak to anyone at the airport. Those who did not have cel phones were out of luck by the time they reached the counter
  • if you belong to a lounge like Red Carpet Club, go to the lounge and use the services of the agents there. Or the internet service there. Chances are that there will be fewer lines in the lounge, and you can plan in comfort.
  • be flexible. If you really need to get somewhere, be prepared to take a connecting flight instead of a nonstop. If you need to break up your party so that one person can get home to work, consider that option
  • consider other airlines. IF your airline interlines, you may be able to sign over the ticket. If they don't interline, you may be able to find a reasonable fare to get home/on vacation, and can dispute your cancelled flight payment later

last suggestion - KEEP YOUR COOL! I can't tell you how many times I sit in ORD during a thunder storm, watching some passenger scream and yell at the gate agent. I wouldn't want to be flying during a thunder storm - I've done it before and it's scary. Screaming and yelling will not make the agent want to help.

We've seen a few posters who made lemonade out of lemons this past week - one is flying on United in First Class today instead of on JetBlue, another planned adventures for her family during a potential 6 hour layover. Kudos to those kinds of travellers who can make a bad situation better.

Important Edit from November 2008: Since we started this thread, all airlines cut capacity quite severely into/out of MCO. As a result, there are far fewer empty seats on flights, so your chances of getting rebooked on another flight are less than in past.
 

Bill From PA

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That
Joined
Nov 8, 1999
This is just the sort of info an Infrequent Flyer like myself needs. We're days away from our trip and a flight cancellation at our small local airport is the only realistic speed-bump in our road. I'll be watching the weather closely and monitoring the Delta site for info on our flights and now I'll know what action to take if the snow hits the fan. Thanks!

Bill From PA
 
  • snowbunny

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jan 19, 2005
    Great info. One question on cell phone booking while in line - obviously you fly a lot so do you have the airline reservation numbers preprogrammed into your phone? I am picturing myself standing in line with kids and carry ons, juggling papers so that I have my confirmation number and so forth, and how to do this with a minimum of hassle.
     

    DebbieB

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 24, 1999
    Thanks for the info. My biggest tip is the one about calling the airline rather than getting in a line. Don't stand in a long line wasting time. Get on the phone. I do have USAir's number on my cellphone.
     

    I'mNoPrince

    <font color=darkorchid>AlterEgo tmt martins<br><fo
    Joined
    Oct 1, 2006
    We also have SWA phone numbers and web-sight bookmarked in all three of our phones just incase one goes dead.
     
  • bavaria

    <font color=deeppink>Makes the best of both worlds
    Joined
    Jan 3, 2001
    some other thoughts
    • program airline AND hotel toll free numbers into your cel phone
    • take fully charged phones, even while on vacation
    • bring your charger in your carryon - I have often charged my phone or laptop in the terminal for use to make such calls
    • if you can, try and leave BEFORE the weather hits. With the Denver blizzards, United was trying to get people out a day before the storm hit
    • stock up on food - if it looks like it will be messy at the airport, buy drinks and snacks at the gift shop. In Denver, they couldn't restock bwn blizzards and food ran low.
    • always bring a change of undies - I carry two with me at all times, a lesson I learned after working with stranded international passengers after 9/11 (outside the US)
    • if you can, enlist a friend at home to help out. I often get calls from colleagues asking 'are you at your desk? can you book me a room somewhere?' one poster here did that this week, and her friend at home got her booked on a flight out of MCO after JetBlue stranded her
     

    bavaria

    <font color=deeppink>Makes the best of both worlds
    Joined
    Jan 3, 2001
    If you get to the airport and your flight is delayed or cancelled, check for other flights. For instance, last week I was at ORD and my flight was delayed. I was going to the restroom when I spotted another flight, same airline, going to the same destination. Problem was that they were soliciting people to take a later flight, as this flight was oversold. I put my name on the standby list, and quietly stood by. Just before the doors closed, my name was called, and I found myself flying business class to my destination hours before my original flight was due to leave.

    And if you ARE standing by, don't give up hope and leave the gate until the plane pulls away from the gate. After the Dorval airport fire, I was rebooked on a flight 3 days after my original flight. I went to the airport the next day planning to stand by for every flight; on the first flight out everyone left the gate as we were told that no standbys would make it on the flight. Lo and behold, just as they were closing the doors they spotted a seat, and since I was the only one who had remained in the gate area, the seat was mine.
     

    safetymom

    Super Moderator
    Joined
    Aug 13, 2001
    Thank you for the calm head of reason. It's important to always carry the 800 number of your airline in case something does happen. You don't need to stand in a line to make the changes.

    Also remember that sometimes things happen. No need to rant and rave off weather issues. Remember to keep a cool head. The person behind the counter can be your friend.
     
  • salbythec

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Sep 8, 2004
    Thank you so much for posting this information.
    I have credit with Jet Blue, I plan on using them for my Dec. flight. So you never know.
     

    ExPirateShopGirl

    <font color=blue>My posts are sanitized for your p
    Joined
    Feb 20, 2005
    Thank you, Bavaria... the voice of reason!

    It definitely pays to be proactive. Sometimes you can spot a delay before the airline updates the departure board by checking the arrival time of the plane coming INTO your assigned gate (i.e., the plane you'll be on eventually.) The board will tell you the airport of origin and the arrival time. If that plane is already in the air, the arrival time noted is accurate and the standard turn around time for your particular airline of choice will give you a good idea of the real departure time.

    When I travel I always bring along the bag of emergency nuts, usually almonds. I break into them as a last resort and I've had to more than once. Make sure you also pack an EMPTY 16.9 or 20 ounce water bottle. Adds no weight to your carry-on and you can use drinking fountains past security to fill up as you need it.

    In addition to programming airline, taxi, hotel and other important numbers into your cell phone, have them printed out on a piece of paper folded into your wallet, too. If your cell phone dies you can easily look the numbers up. Carrying an 'emergency only' calling card isn't a bad idea, either. It's lighter than coins and might even be refillable.

    I generally keep a small pouch of assorted non-liquid or gel remedies and first aid items (several of each) with me in my carry-on for emergencies: tylenol, pepto, cough and cold strips, anti-bacterial wipes, bandaids, qtips, vitamins, airborne cough drops, cleanpaste floss (toothpaste and floss in one), small washcloth, empty ziplock to put washcloth in if I have to use it, mini bar soap, solid deodorant. You get the idea.

    I like the underwear idea. This brings me to one of the pet peeves I have about air travelers. Clothing. It never fails to amaze me what people will wear on an airplane, from the ridiculously over-dressed to the painfully under-dressed. Comfort, modesty and cleanliness are the biggest casualties.

    I digress.

    Back to what Bavaria said... be proactive, be prepared. You'll thank yourself later.

    :cutie:
     

    MrsNick

    <font color=darkorchid>sometimes out of desperatio
    Joined
    Aug 4, 2005
    A big shout out to Bavaria. THANK YOU for this thread! :thanks:

    Thanks especially for the tip about booking a hotel which allows cancellation until late on the day of check-in. I had assumed there would be a penalty, or even a one night room charge for this. I'm with you: not into "handling" (or should we say not handling) emergencies like the masses we see on the news.

    You are so right. We can't control the emergency, but we can control how we deal with the emergency.

    P.S. Bavaria, do you, as an experienced traveller, not book flights on airlines which do not have interline agreements with other carriers?
     

    NotUrsula

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Apr 19, 2002
    I'd also add the numbers of your favorite car rental agencies to your phone, and also carry a list of all of your frequent-use "club" numbers. (Paper is good here, so that you can look at the list WHILE talking on the phone.) Rental cars also go fast, especially in hub airports where passengers are stranded making a connection; it may be easier to just drive that last 200 miles.

    If you have a laptop or Blackberry and a wireless account, make sure that all these things are bookmarked there -- you can usually save time and money rebooking online if you have that option, as opposed to doing it over the phone. It is good to know in advance what wireless connectivity options are available at the airports that you are passing through.

    Not only should you carry your charger, but I also recommend carrying a small multi-outlet extension adapter. Power outlets are scarce in most airports, and if someone else is already using the only available outlet, being able to pull out that adapter and say "Would you be OK with sharing?" can be a lifesaver.

    Consider asking for a change of route -- sometimes a really roundabout and bizarre route will be workable when weather at a connecting point or somewhere along the route is the problem. In non-weather situations, the bigger and busier the airport, the more options you'll normally have, so you may be able to add an extra leg to get somewhere that has more options. For instance, DH and several of his partners once got stranded late at Miami and told that they couldn't be put on a flight to STL until late the next afternoon; he asked to be sent to MCO to spend the night instead, because from there they could leave at 6 am. Worked like a charm.

    Also, a special note about travelling with small children or anyone who has special dietary needs. Always carry at least 24 hours worth of whatever special items or foods that the person needs; baby items are not widely available in airports, and when there is a ground stop they run out super-fast.
    Nuts are an especially good idea as an emergency food if you can eat them.
     

    bavaria

    <font color=deeppink>Makes the best of both worlds
    Joined
    Jan 3, 2001
    P.S. Bavaria, do you, as an experienced traveller, not book flights on airlines which do not have interline agreements with other carriers?
    I don't fly anything but legacy carriers. I did used to fly charters back in my 'youth' before I started to travel so much. Several Canadian charters went out of business in the last few years, and if you think that JetBlue didn't treat their passengers well, imagine being stranded half way across the world by Canada 3000. Plus they can change schedules at will. I also deter my family from flying a charter.

    The only type of low cost and/or charter type flight I advocate is something like Condor, the low cost wing of Lufthansa. They actually use LH planes a lot of the time, and if something goes wrong, they can rely on LH's network and planes to fix the problem quickly.

    (Edited to add - in the US I believe the SW is large enough and has enough experience and large enough fleet to handle problems; JetBlue does not yet have enough experience, manpower, or a large enough fleet to react quickly enough)

    BTW, I love your phrase
    We can't control the emergency, but we can control how we deal with the emergency
    . I vote for making that the motto of the Transportation Board!!
     

    bavaria

    <font color=deeppink>Makes the best of both worlds
    Joined
    Jan 3, 2001
    I would also fly a charter or low cost carrier on a route like Munich - Paris, and will most likely do so this year. It's an hour+ flight, half the cost of train travel, and if something does go wrong, I can take a train, car, or other airline.

    But I wouldn't do that on most routes. And I would always have a backup plan in place.
     

    bavaria

    <font color=deeppink>Makes the best of both worlds
    Joined
    Jan 3, 2001
    I'd also add the numbers of your favorite car rental agencies to your phone, and also carry a list of all of your frequent-use "club" numbers. (Paper is good here, so that you can look at the list WHILE talking on the phone.) Rental cars also go fast, especially in hub airports where passengers are stranded making a connection; it may be easier to just drive that last 200 miles.
    Great point. I once drove from O'Hare to Eastern Iowa in what was literally the last car on the Alamo lot at ORD. Although it was a long drive, I got to my destination while those who were on the same flight as me were still sitting in the F terminal at ORD with little food or water, in blazing heat and no airconditioning.
     

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