Between weather, mechanical issues and even staffing problems, thereâ€™s almost always a chance that your flight will be delayed â€“ or possibly cancelled. In some cases, you might get lucky and land a seat on another flight to the same destination, within an hour or two.
More often than not, though, a flight cancellation ends up being a major hassle. If you donâ€™t know the best ways to manage the travel disruption â€“ from how to rebook and how to avoid sleeping in the airport â€“ your flight cancellation could mean more than just missing your cousinâ€™s wedding or a few days of vacation and extend into a multi-day nightmare.
Preparing for the Worst
Itâ€™s the announcement that no one wants to hear: your flight has been cancelled. If youâ€™re already at the airport, those words ignite a stampede to the check-in desk, with every passenger jockeying for position to get a seat on the first flight out.
Your best bet? Stay put. Thatâ€™s right â€“ stay seated and start dialing your phone. Before you leave home on your trip, program your airlineâ€™s customer service number into your phone and carry your flight confirmation number. Once you hear the news, call to reschedule. Not only will you avoid waiting in the line, you might be presented with options that other travelers donâ€™t have. After all, the gate agent is trying to get everyone rebooked as soon as possible and doesnâ€™t have time to look for creative solutions to your problem.
And speaking of the gate agents? It pays to be polite. Remember, itâ€™s not that individualâ€™s fault that your flight is cancelled, and yelling at her is not going to get her to put you on another flight any sooner. Be nice and offer sympathy for her plight, and you might just find yourself with meal vouchers, extra miles in your account or even a spot on a â€œfullâ€ flight.
Getting a Better Deal
Sometimes, despite everyoneâ€™s best efforts, you just canâ€™t get your cancelled flight rebooked any time soon. When there is a major disruption, or youâ€™re flying on a route without regular flights, your rebooked flight might not be for several days.
While you could always just stomach the expense of staying put â€“ which, if you purchased travel insurance, could be a viable option â€“ you have other options. First, start looking for affordable flights on other airlines or to other cities. For example, you might be able to get a one-way, last-minute ticket to your destination, or another city thatâ€™s only a few hours away for a hundred dollars or less. Once you arrive, rent a car, or take a bus or train to your original destination. In most cases, youâ€™ll qualify for a refund on the unused portion of your original ticket.
Another option is to inquire about different routes. While you might prefer a direct route, you might be able to find a flight that connects in a more out-of-the-way city; youâ€™ll most likely add time to your trip, but it will certainly be less than the several days that you could spend sitting in the airport.
Youâ€™re Really Stuck! Now What?
In some cases, such as when a major storm closes airports and causes hundreds of flights to be delayed, you have nothing to do but wait. If you absolutely must get out of town, look into other modes of transportation, understanding that weather delays can affect trains and buses as well.
Whenever you fly anywhere, pack a carry-on with your essentials for staying comfortable for at least 24 hours. Pack medication, eyeglasses or contact lenses as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste, plus a change of clothes, and your cell phone and charger. Pack extra snacks as well; if several flights cancel, you can expect long lines at restaurants and food counters if they even remain open when the airport closes (not to mention, the price of airport dining can quickly add up).
If you anticipate that there could be weather-related cancellations, check your flight status multiple times before you leave for the airport, avoid checking bags if you can and consider reserving a hotel in your connecting city ahead of time; you can always cancel if you donâ€™t need the room.
When air travel goes smoothly, itâ€™s convenient and even enjoyable. When things go awry, though, you can go from happy camper to disgruntled passenger in the blink of an eye. Plan ahead for the worst and youâ€™ll reduce the chances of a night (or two) spent sleeping on the terminal floor.
Dillon Michaelson has blogged about travel for several sites. After flying extensively through the years, he has an insiderâ€™s view of all the best tips and tricks, like how to obtain insanely cheap flights.