If you’re holding tickets to a ball game or a tennis match that gets rained out, it’s a let down. But when you’ve got a pair of airplane tickets to some great escape like Bali or to an urgent business meeting half way across the country and your flight gets cancelled for bad weather, well, the consequences are often greater, more than simply emotional. Indeed, they can range anywhere from losing precious, irrecoverable vacation time, to having to repurchase a missed connecting flight, to scrambling to win that big deal for your company. That’s why, as we prepare for our trip, we monitor the weather forecasts with an eye toward rescheduling if necessary. And, of course, we can usually be found at some point praying to our favorite weather god – be it Zeus, Thor, Indra, or Yu Shi – for a gorgeous, sunny day for flying.
Yet, as many of us have experienced, there are times when our prayers for good weather go unanswered, fall on the deaf ears of the gods, and we find ourselves in such an unexpected storm on the day of our trip that our airline cancels our flight. Cold weather alone accounts for about 60,000 flight cancellations each year, according to Business Insider. If we’re lucky, we get the bad news while we’re still at home or in our hotel room, but often we don’t get it until we’ve already trekked all the way out to the airport. That the airline may have cancelled with our safety in mind is frequently given little thought as we feel left stranded.
And so there you are at the airport with a first class seat to the storm, looking out of an enormous bank of windows as it rolls on in and over all your best laid plans. And as you strain looking for any break in the clouds, the rain, or the snow, it often seems that with each fresh bolt of lightning your hopes get zapped, with each swirl of snow or gust of wind they get blown away.Well, instead of putting your head in your hands in despair after trying to be a weatherman that knows which way the wind blows, read our tips on what happens when a flight is cancelled.
Keep in mind as you follow them that even though an ill wind may be blowin’, there’s some reason to be hopeful of even getting an alternate flight. After all, maybe the only reason why your airline cancelled was because a significant number of passengers didn’t show or cancelled for fear of flying in what they believed to be bad weather. Or maybe it was because your airline’s equipment didn’t arrive due to bad weather at its origin.
Know Where You Stand When You’re Stuck
When an airline cancels a flight due to bad weather, or for any other reason for that matter, it’s very important to know what you are entitled to as that will determine the way you should proceed. How an airline must make good depends upon two things: the transportation laws of the country that cover your flight and the contract of carriage that you automatically make with an airline when you purchase your ticket.
If your flight originates or terminates in the United States, for instance, then it’s covered by U.S. policy. And in the U.S., while the Department of Transportation allows airlines to book passengers on the next available flight that they have for free as a way of making good, it requires them to refund you for the unused transportation, even on non-refundable tickets, should you want that. The airline is also required to refund you for any baggage fees and extras, like seat assignment, that you paid.
The contract of carriage may also list other things you’re entitled to such as some compensation for any necessary hotel accommodation or at least help in locating a hotel room. So while you’re on the customer service line, pull up your e-ticket on your phone and make sure you review this section before you speak with a representative. Remember, airline reps sometimes only respond to what you ask for instead of offering you what you’re entitled to. Unless specified otherwise in this contract, airlines are not required, at this time, under U.S. law to provide any other compensation such as a reimbursement for the cost of a connecting flight that you’ll miss due to the original flight cancellation.
Visit – and Call – Customer Service for an Alternate Flight
If you’re already at the airport, join the line at your airline’s customer service desk to get an alternate flight, but while waiting call the airline on your cell too. Sometimes it can be faster – and less hectic – to get through on the phone. Anyway, doing both doubles your chances of reaching a representative. If you bought a cheap airline flight from a travel agency though, then you’ll want to call it first. It may be able to give you quicker service, especially since everyone on your cancelled flight will certainly not be running to it for help.
Be sure to check your email as you wait in and on the line as airlines’ automated ticketing systems may offer you a replacement flight before you get a chance to speak with a representative.
Hop a Ride with Your Airline’s Partner
Airlines today often belong to alliances, such as the Star Alliance, in which they cooperate with each other in a number of ways to offer passengers a higher quality of safety and service. If you know who your airline partners with go to their website on your mobile and see if they have a seat on a suitable flight. If they do, then call them and see if they’ll give it to you as a replacement for the one that got cancelled. You can even do this while your in and on the line with your airline.
Get a Line on an Interline Agreement
If your airline or one of its partners does not have a suitable alternate flight, then ask if it has what’s known as an interline agreement with another carrier. This is an agreement between two or more airlines who are not necessarily partners to cooperate by, among other things, taking each other’s passengers during cancellations or other interruptions of operations. Such an agreement could have you off on your trip even in the face of the foul weather.
Fly with the Other Guy (and Your Airline Pays…Shhh!)
Is that really done? you may wonder. Well, yes. It’s often done, even though it totally rubs up against our capitalistic expectations and does require a little moxie on our part. But if your airline can’t offer you a suitable alternate flight in any of the above ways, then look at other airlines and see what flights they have. If you find one that you like, tell your airline and ask them to buy you the ticket. After all, they do have your money. It may take some badgering and an appeal to a supervisor but getting yourself booked on a competitor is something that’s accepted in the business. Mainly because airlines do have a responsibility to get you where you’re going.
Get a Refund If All Else Fails
Though your flight is cancelled, it can still be difficult to accept having to cancel your trip, especially after all the planning you’ve put into it or all that may be riding on it. But if you can’t get an alternate flight after trying some or all of the above methods, then tell your airline you want to cancel it and get a refund for your unused transportation. Airlines will often try to give you a travel voucher, but this is not a refund. While it’s perfectly OK to accept it if you agree with the terms, if you want a cash refund you are entitled to it based on well-established DOT policy. The airline must refund you via your original form of payment. One advantage of a voucher over a refund though is that you can usually use the voucher immediately while the refund may take a week or two.
If you bought your tickets through a travel agent, then, unless instructed otherwise, it’s best to call the agency and let them know that you want a refund. Keep in mind that the travel agency you used does not have your money since it has already paid the airline for your tickets. Once you talk with the agency, it will apply to the airline on your behalf for your refund.
A Few Other Tips
Here are a few other things to keep in mind to help get you through your flight cancellation.
- If there’s a chance you’ll have to travel in bad weather, you might want to only bring a carry-on bag if you can. It’s just easier and faster for you and the airline if you don’t have checked baggage when you have to hop an alternate flight.
- Be sure the airline has your updated contact information such as your cell phone and email address. And make sure that you’ve downloaded your airline’s travel app so that you can receive text alerts.
- Use travel applications like FlightStats or FlightAware or a flight tracking service from your travel agency to get notifications on the status of your flight, connecting flight, or other flights that you may be considering as alternates. These kinds of apps also tell you about weather conditions at airports in your itinerary and even give you restaurant and other advice to help you through layovers.
- Consider camping out in the comfort of an airlines lounge or club while you wait for your alternate flight. Even if you don’t have membership access, you can often buy a day pass, though it’s usually cheaper if you do so online than at the club itself. Or you may already have access through your credit card perks.
- If you took out travel insurance ahead of your trip, contact your insurance company to see how it can help you weather the storm.
If you’ll be spending several hours in the main part of the airport, then read How to Sleep Comfortably at the Airport.
Share some of your tips for getting through a flight cancellation with all of us in the comments section below.