What to do when winter weather messes with your flight. (AP)
This week, we’re seeing the beginnings of the 2014-2015 winter flying season. Or, more accurately, the 2014-2015 winter flying disruption season.
Last week, Buffalo endured days of flight disruptions after the region was pelted with lake-effect snow. And now, a massive pre-Thanksgiving storm is snarling travel across the East Coast, causing flight delays, cancellations, and epic traffic jams.
Flight delays are bad enough. But what if the weather knocks out your flight entirely? If it’s a weather-related cancelation, airlines don’t have to get you food or lodging; they just have to get you on their next available flight, and there’s no guarantee when that will be.
Here are some tips on how to handle canceled flights and delays.
1. Sign Up for Your Airline’s Flight Notification System
Get notified via text or email if your flight has been canceled. (Thinkstock)
Many airlines allow you to opt into an email or text-based notification system. Use this tool to keep tabs on your flight, especially if you’re flying in places subject to Old Man Winter’s temper tantrums. Benét Wilson, co-editor of AirwaysNews.com, says, “The earlier you know about a delay, the quicker you can work to resolve it.”
2. Know Before You Go
Check the forecasts at your departure and arrival airports for any potential disruptions. Wilson also recommends looking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control System Command Center website. It lists general airport conditions at the top 23 major airports in the United States.
This FAA site shows you how the nation’s busiest airports are faring. (Courtesy of the FAA)
3. Don’t Check Bags if You Can Help It
“If you don’t have checked bags, airlines can be a lot more flexible about getting you on a later flight,” Wilson says. And if there are no more flights and you have to get a hotel room, all your stuff will already be with you.
4. Use Your Smartphone
A smartphone is a great way to help you land a backup flight. Make sure you bring it to the airport fully charged. (Thinkstock)
Wilson says: “One of my favorite apps is Next Flight. If your flight is delayed or canceled, you can insert your city-pair and find alternative flights. This information can be used when talking to an airline agent.”
5. Triple Up
See the woman on the phone in the background? She’s the one who’s getting home tonight. (Thinkstock)
If you’re at the airport when you’re flight is canceled, your one and only priority is scoring a flight home ASAP. So get in line for the ticket agent. At the same time, call your airline’s reservation number (Never go on a trip without having that phone number and your flight and reservation info saved and in hand.). And also reach out to your airline via Twitter. By using all three of those methods, you can help to ensure that you’ll get hold of someone who’s able to help you.
6. If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get
The airlines aren’t required to do much for you if your flight is canceled because of weather, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Ask for a meal or a hotel voucher. If you’re able to snag a flight on another airline, usa.gov recommends that you ask your original airline to endorse your ticket to the new carrier, which would save you a fare increase. Again, there’s no rule requiring the airlines to do this, so pay attention to the next rule.
7. Be Cool
Having your flight canceled is stressful, especially if it leaves you stranded in a town far from home. But don’t take it out on the airline agents you come in contact with. Because there’s very little they’re required to do (And in a lot of cases, there’s very little they can do.), getting angry or frantic won’t help your cause and may end up hurting it. So stay cool; because if what they’re saying about this winter is true, that’ll be really easy to do.
Be nice to the airline agents. You never know who’ll be able to help you. (Thinkstock)