What should I do if my flight has been canceled or delayed?

(CNN) – It’s been a tough job for some air travelers since the winter vacation rush – and it may not be over soon.

Citing the spike in cases of Omicron variants and in some cases bad weather, airlines have canceled and delayed thousands of flights since December 23.

The trend continued into the first weeks of the new year, reports CNN Business. United Airlines has said it is cutting its flight schedule in hopes of stemming staff shortages linked to Covid. JetBlue Airways has also said it is cutting back its schedule.

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

Avoid getting trapped at the airport

As bad as it may be to find out that your flight has been delayed for a long time, or worse, canceled, it’s best to find out from the comfort of your home or hotel room and make new arrangements from there. of the.

“Check the status of your flight before you go to the airport. Most of these notifications don’t happen at the last minute,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Save yourself the trip to the airport.”
Keyes told CNN Travel in an interview late last year that you should sign up for free airline text alerts on flight status when you purchase your ticket. You also need to download the app from your carrier.

You can also put your airline and flight number directly into a Google search bar to retrieve the status that way. It’s also handy for friends or family who are ready to pick you up.

Keyes also suggested checking the FlightAware website to track major flight 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 on Monday, December 27.

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Sometimes delays and cancellations occur after you arrive at the airport. Once the bad news is announced, what to do?

Keyes said to make your way to the airline’s agents office as fast as possible – and be prepared to multitask while you stand in line.

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

Then call your operator while you wait. Depending on your place in the queue, it may be faster to reach a call center. “Whatever happens first, great,” he said.

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

“Most US-based travelers don’t think about calling the Canadian Delta helpline. You could contact an agent much faster. They can all handle your reservations the same way. “

You can also use a self-service kiosk, according to American Airlines. “Scan your boarding pass or enter your check-in locator to see your updated trip details.” From there, you can also change flights and print your new boarding passes. “

Attitude and research material

Passengers line up to check-in for their flights at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va. On Monday, December 27.

Passengers line up to check-in for their flights at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va. On Monday, December 27.

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

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

“Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” Keyes said. “Look at it from the perspective of airline agents. They have been dealing with angry customers since the start of the pandemic. The agent is the most able to help you.

“Asking kindly and sympathetically is much more likely to get what you want than being a jerk about it.”

He had another tip when it was your turn to talk to an agent about making new arrangements: “Prepare to come up with your own options already.” Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.

Your agent can speed things up if you’ve already researched new routes and possible suggestions while you were waiting. Be prepared to explain what you want.

If you booked through Expedia or another third-party site, you will need to go through them in the event of a cancellation.

If the price is the same, Keyes suggested that you book directly with the airline. If there is a problem, “it makes it much more complicated with multiple sets of policies” when you book through a third party.

US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, suggests that you avoid layovers when booking if possible. The more you stop, the more likely it is that something will go wrong.

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

Trapped for the night

A woman and child wait for their flight alongside another traveler at Miami International Airport on Monday, December 27.

A woman and child wait for their flight alongside another traveler at Miami International Airport on Monday, December 27.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP

What do you do if it looks like you won’t be able to get on a plane until the next day and you’re not in your hometown?

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

They’re less likely to do it if it’s weather related, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical issue with the plane or personnel issues.

Know the policies. For example, Delta Air Lines says it will provide a hotel voucher in certain circumstances if the trip is interrupted more than four hours after the scheduled departure time when the delay is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Whatever you do, at least ask, Keyes said. A voucher for hotels and even ground transportation and meals probably won’t just be offered.

You should also research your credit card information. Keyes said your card may have protections for passengers, including free hotel rooms if you get stuck and maybe even cover your food and taxi to the hotel. Find out what you need to do to get your money back.

If your flight is delayed instead of being canceled outright, you might want to weigh whether to wait at the airport. Depending on your personal situation, hiding there for five or six hours may be easier than coming and going from a hotel. Also, Keyes said, check to see if there is a hotel in the airport.

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

Cancel your trip and fly later

“If you’re planning to fly… and you’re worried about Omicron, the airlines are offering free changes to your flight,” Keyes said. “If you want to change your travel dates, you can change it without penalty.”

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

Refund rights for your flight

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

This is the policy, regardless of the reason the airlines cancel or delay the flight. However, what “significant delay” remains 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 circumstances. The DOT determines if you are entitled to a refund for 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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