At least the trials of this unpredictable travel landscape have taught travelers to expect the unexpected. But if you’re not ready to be stuck in limbo, consider this your one-stop-shop for everything you need before you leave for your next flight.
You should be prepared for cancellations and delays even before arriving at the airport. In fact, do it as soon as you book a flight. Phil Dengler, co-founder of travel blog The Vacationer, says to start by booking directly with the airline rather than a third party.
“If your flight is cancelled, you will need to speak to a customer service agent. Book directly with the airline so you have access in case something goes wrong,” says Dengler. And, if you can, while you book your flight, avoid flights with layovers. More stops only increase the likelihood of a bumpy trip, he says.
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Booking one of the first flights of the day is also essential. Cancellations and delays have a domino effect, and flying early will reduce your risk of problems – and give you more flight options later in the day if you run into trouble.
Use technology to your advantage
Both Dengler and Heather Poole, a flight attendant for American Airlines, offered the same advice: Download the airline’s app and be prepared to tune in to Twitter if your flight is canceled. Airline apps can alert you to gate changes and cancellations before the information reaches the gate agent. And once a flight is cancelled, direct messaging an airline’s Twitter account may be the fastest way to speak to someone as companies continue to face wait times of several hours on the phone.
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Airline apps can also help you avoid queues at the check-in counter by letting you download your boarding pass to your phone, choose your seat, upload documents and even now check your luggage. Alaska Airlines announced this week that it will allow customers to check their checked bags before arriving at the airport and transfer their flight information to electronic baggage tags through an app.
Also, if your flight is cancelled, the airline’s app will likely be the quickest way to see what other flights the airline is offering.
For a flight to or from the United States, you are entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you choose not to choose another option, in accordance with the rules of the Ministry of Transport. This also applies if you are unintentionally downgraded to a lower tier service than you paid for. No law requires US airlines to provide hotels, meal vouchers or other services beyond the cost of the flight, but you should always ask your airline what they can do. These services must generally be requested in person at the airport, not over the phone or online.
You are also entitled to compensation if you were denied boarding because your flight was overbooked and you did not volunteer to give up your seat. Airlines are allowed to overbook flights, and there’s no minimum they have to offer when asking travelers if someone is willing to catch a later flight. Recently, passengers have reported that airlines have offered thousands of people to volunteer to be kicked off flights.
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If you are evicted involuntarily, airlines should give you a form detailing your rights to compensation, which is often tied to when you arrive at your final destination. Keep in mind that most airlines require you to be checked in or at the gate by a certain time to be eligible for compensation beyond the cost of the flight.
Compensation rules differ around the world. For intra-European flights, EU Regulation 261 establishes rules for compensating and assisting passengers if their flight is canceled or delayed, or if they cannot board.
If your flight arrives or departs from an airport in the European Union, you are entitled to up to 600 euros for long delays or cancellations. And if your flight is delayed for more than two hours, you are entitled to meals.
There is a checklist of requirements for the cause of the delay that must be completed to claim compensation – passengers must be checked in on time, the airline must be responsible for the delay, and the flight must have taken off or landed within EU, to name a few. Airlines do not need to compensate in “extraordinary circumstances”, which include, among other things, bad weather and security risks.
If you’re going to be stuck at the airport, you’ll want to use all of your devices. A power bank might cost you $30 or more, but it’ll be worth it knowing you won’t have to fight for outlet space or be tethered to a wall if you need to rebook on your phone or use it for entertainment.
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Also, airport food is expensive. Even if you’re not in tune with the price, there’s no guarantee the options will be open as airports deal with staff shortages. “A peanut butter and jelly will taste 1,000 times better than anything you’re going to get on the plane,” Poole said. As a flight attendant, she often carries oatmeal, tuna, crackers, and almonds.
Finally, having a book, magazine, or other form of non-electronic entertainment can help fill the time when you can’t use your phone.
A canceled flight does not make anyone happy. Other travelers are frustrated and airlines currently have fewer staff to deal with heightened emotions. Poole, noting his 25 years of experience, said: “Just a smile will go so far. Like a please and a thank you…. Now more than ever, you just want to do anything for the nice person.”
“It’s so rare to have someone calm and patient and kind,” she said. “If I could do something for someone like that, I would do my best.”