While airports do their best to ensure that passengers have an easier time, often when your flight gets delayed or canceled, the situation quickly descends into chaos as people start scrambling to jump on the next available flight, tempers flare and the airline staff has their souls and sanity eroded a little more. But what should you do? What can you do?
Here are a few tips on what to do when your flight gets delayed or cancelled and you find yourself stranded at the airport.
1. Call your insurance provider
If your flight delay is not terribly long, less than 3 hours or so, likely you won’t be entitled to anything. However, if it is for a substantial period of time, you should call your insurance provider to see what your delay or cancellation has entitled you to. Insurance should cover these situations. For delays up to 7 hours or more, insurance might reimburse you or cover meal and overnight expenses for you. If you are not in the habit of buying travel insurance, well then, come on, it is not expensive and it covers you for a lot of possibilities. As common sense dictates, don’t forget to check all terms and conditions before buying any insurance plan.
2. Keep your cool and be smart
This is very important. Although a delay or cancellation is a stressful time for you, remember that the poor counter staff is in all likelihood doing their best to calm down angry travelers. They do have the upper hand when it comes to finding a solution so make sure to be calm and courteous. I’ve personally experienced a case where my flight was overbooked in Oklahoma, and the counter lady flat out refused to help a man in front of me who had lost his temper and was yelling at her. I was polite, but expressed my displeasure and tried to get her to sympathize with me. And, it worked! She found me a replacement flight departing within two hours which allowed me to make it to my destination on time. Remember that above all, they are human beings too and if you treat them with respect and dignity, chances are that they will reciprocate.
If however the counter at the gate is swarmed by a seething horde of angry, screaming travelers, try calling the airline customer hotline instead. You may have better luck getting through to someone whose goodwill towards humanity have not been screamed out of them already. Think about alternative ways too, such as if the airline has several gate counters, approaching another counter instead can work in your favour. This is exactly what worked for me in the situation I described above.
3. Check with the airline
Airline rules and regulations towards cancellations and delays are generally vague and nebulous. This is so that if they do decide not to hand out any compensation, they can fall back and say it was what you agreed to once you purchased the ticket. Whether it is a cancellation, delay or overbooking, being aware of what you are entitled to in each situation will help you make the most out of it. So spend a little time researching your airline and finding out what you can get in the event of a delay.
However, chances are if your flight has been delayed or cancelled, the airline is likely to offer compensation for your troubles. It can be anything from a food voucher, cash, hotel stay, airline credit or any other compensation that the airline deems fair. What you are entitled to is almost entirely up to the airline to decide based on whether or not you are a frequent flyer and other factors. Fact is, you are completely at the mercy of your airline.
If the cancellation or delay does happen, the airline will typically put you on the next available flight. If you find that the delay is unacceptable, you can request a full refund or book a flight on another airline. While this may not entirely ameliorate the situation, the airline in some cases can book a flight for you from another airline. This is quite unlikely however and will usually only occur if you have some form of status with that airline.
If you do manage to get on an acceptable replacement flight, don’t be shy and ask for a lounge pass or some vouchers to help you pass the time before your next flight. A lounge can be a great place as it has free WiFi, hot food, drinks and comfortable places for travelers to rest before taking off.
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4. Plan your connecting flights
If you have a connection to make, then you may be in trouble if any flight gets delayed. I was once given only 5 minutes to make a connecting flight at Atlanta due to some scheduling error and had to sprint across an airport from end to end. If you’ve made the entire trip in one booking from the same airline, then the airline will take care of you. Even if you made a booking through a third party search aggregation service such as Expedia, you should be fine. If however, your connection is on a separate airline, you will have to do your best to convince the airline to make it up to you. So, even if it costs more, it is usually better to book flights on the same airline to avoid unfortunate situations of overlapping of connection flights.
5. Do your research while you have the time
If delays happen, try to make the most of your time by planning the rest of the trip accordingly. Find out what time you are likely to arrive and make transport arrangements accordingly. This is especially so if your destination is known for having awful traffic. Ensure that your hotel can receive a late or early check depending on your arrival time. Or, simply look out for any attractions or places to visit if your schedule changes. Don’t just sulk in the airport and do nothing, be proactive and try accomplishing a few small things to make yourself feel better and avoid further issues.
6. Try to have fun and have something to eat
If you are on vacation, you may feel bummed that your valuable time off is spent stuck in an airport. If the delay is a long one, keep your luggage with the airport for a fee and head out into town and blow off some steam. If the airport has great facilities, then try to take advantage of those by maybe going for a swim, checking out exhibits, watch planes leave, or have a good meal or a drink. Since you are on vacation and the situation is what it is, make the most of it and start vacationing right there in the airport. If you are on a business trip well, may as well have some fun during the delay as well, yeah?
These are some of the steps you can take if you find yourself in a prickly situation. Most importantly, if you are faced with any cancellation or delay, don’t take it harshly. Keep it calm, put our advice to good use and go on to enjoy the rest of your trip.
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