The weather on the east coast of the United States this past week has reminded me of something important: you should always be prepared in case your flight is canceled.
So, I scoured the internet looking for the best examples of what to do if your flight is canceled due to weather. Of course, in situations like Hurricane Sandy, you really should have checked before you left the house (and tried to rebook your flight for a less eventful weather day). But let’s say you’re already at the airport, maybe you flew in from somewhere else and your connection is canceled; what should you have done to prepare for the possibility, and what should you do when it happens?
If you’re in Europe or on a European airline there are laws governing what to do if inconvenience strikes. The European Union says that air carriers must pay compensation and provide food or even hotels for passengers on canceled flights, or even flights delayed two hours or more.
In the United States it’s a little more difficult to find out what services you’re owed. The rule of thumb in the U.S. is that you should expect nothing when it comes to weather-related cancelations. Bad weather is considered act of god, and the airlines are not required to pay for food, transportation, or lodging.
So, what do you do? I suggest calling ahead. If the roads are bad at your house, the runways will be bad too, so why risk it. If you are at the airport and suddenly see the bright light next to your flight on the departures board change from on time to canceled, get on the phone and call the reservations desk for your airline while you walk to the ticket counter. Chances are you’ll reach someone who can help you on the phone faster than you can reach the counter.
If you’re trying to get on a connecting flight, you’re already past security and this gives you a leg up on the people who are at the main ticket counter. Ask the agent at the gate if they’ve set up a desk for connecting passengers; airlines tend to understand the plight of passengers in transit and will look for options. I think it’s because the flight crews have been there stranded at airports with nowhere to go.
That brings me to how to snag a room. You should start looking for a nearby hotel the moment the first delay goes up. The airline will delay as long as possible before canceling your flight, so after an hour, call that hotel and make a reservation. Be sure to look up the hotel’s cancelation policy so if your flight does take off you can cancel without being charged for the room.
When you’re dealing with the ticket agents, don’t be a dick. Remember they truly would rather you get on a plane and get to where you’re going. They have stressful jobs that get even more stressful when 150 people are yelling at them. Be nice. Your kindness may be rewarded with meal vouchers and faster rebooking. I had someone yell at me at work once to go faster; I simply told them “yelling at me will only make me go slower.” I think that’s true for a lot of people in a lot of situations.
What are some preemptive measures you can take?
Pack smart. You should always have a carryon bag with a change of clothes and essential toiletries. Once you’ve checked your bag it’s gone, there are about a dozen rules preventing it from being returned to you at a place other than the final checked destination. I also suggest granola bars, or some other type of non-perishable, filling food that packs easy. You never know if the airport restaurants will remain open overnight.
Remember when you booked your ticket online and you were asked if you’d like to receive push notifications? You should have clicked yes! The push notifications will keep you apprized of changes in the flight plan, keeping you one step ahead of the other passengers and increasing your chances of successfully rebooking if necessary.
I know that having a flight canceled is no fun. I’ve been on some that were delayed up to 10 hours and never canceled. But these tips should help you prepare for the next time you head to the airport if Mother Nature doesn’t want you to leave.