The holiday season is a time when millions of people travel. But whether you are going to be airborne in the next couple of weeks or at another time of the year, flight cancellation is a risk you bear.
What do airlines owe travelers when they cancel a flight? Not a whole lot. But they will try to book you on the next available flight at no extra cost. That’s the case whether you’re stranded midway through your trip or are about to embark.
Some federal rules do apply. The U.S. Department of Transportation explains:
If your flight is canceled or diverted or experiences a lengthy delay, and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation — even for nonrefundable tickets — and for any bag fee that you paid.
Each airline has a policy on cancellations. Contact your airline to learn the policy. But here are seven more tips for coping with cancellations:
Buy tickets from a travel agent
You’ll pay a small fee, perhaps $20 or $30. But a good agent watches your itinerary and, if your connection is canceled, re-books you on another flight while you’re in the air. You can waltz off the plane and onto your next flight while your fellow passengers scramble to find new accommodations.
Consider trip insurance
This can be a worthwhile investment, but be realistic about the coverage. For example, airlines likely will only honor this coverage when you cancel for a covered reason, such as a medical emergency or the death of a family member.
Get early warnings
Download your airline’s app onto your phone and sign up for flight alerts. Be sure the airline has your phone number and email address. The sooner you learn of trouble, the faster you can act.
Line up at the customer service counter and, at the same time, call the airline’s toll-free number. Try getting re-booked to fly out on your current airline or another. If you find a flight on another airline, ask your first carrier to endorse your ticket to the new airline.
Stay open to alternatives
When re-booking, try other airports or other cities near your destination. Try Amtrak, buses and even car rentals. (Before renting a car, ask about drop fees and mileage charges for one-way trips.)
Mind your P’s and Q’s
When asking overwhelmed airline personnel for help, remember that they didn’t cause the problem. Try to be gracious, if for no other reason than it’ll get you further.
Travel in Europe
European Union laws are more generous than those in the U.S., says USA Today. Your airline must provide meals and “a hotel stay when the cancellation results in an overnight layover and a full reimbursement when the cancellation delays the passenger for five hours or more.”
Do you have a flight cancellation story or tips to share? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.