Saturday, March 8, 2014

Flight Cancellation Rebooking Help Action Items

My flight on Monday was cancelled because the flight crew never arrived. I was sitting at the gate looking at the aircraft and watching the estimated departure time increment 10 minutes every ten minutes.  The gate agent did not share where the crew was coming from, just that they could arrive any minute and not to leave the gate area.  After three hours of this, the flight was cancelled.  What should you do in this situation?
Not Moving Today
  1. Find alternate options while waiting. Pull up the airline website and see what else can get you to your destination. Help your cause by finding other ways to your destination.  This will help when you talk to an agent about alternatives.  Keep it all on the original carrier.  Since airline deregulation in the 70's, US carriers are not obligated to put you on an open seat with another airline.
  2. Call your airline while you are waiting to see if they can switch you to another flight.  Once your flight is delayed, they should drop change fees.  If you don't like the first answer you hear, hang up and try again.
  3. Airline club staff can assist in rebooking if you have a membership or a day pass.  The lines are shorter, so you will wait less and have a longer conversation about alternatives than at the general customer service counter. 
  4. Once the flight is cancelled, call the airline and move quickly to the customer service counter or airline club.  You are likely to talk to a phone agent before an airport agent and they can get you started on rebooking.  If they offer an option you don't like, propose a better option from the list of alternatives you made.  Not all alternatives may be available, but some agents look a basic A to B options while A to C to B may be preferable.
  5. If you are spending the night and it it the airline's fault (crew, maintenance, almost anything else besides weather) ask an airport agent for a hotel voucher and food vouchers (has to be done at the airport).  Also if you checked a bag, ask if it will be held by the airline or returned; don't assume one or the other.  
Plan B
The earlier it is, the easier same day rebooking will be because there are more options and fewer displaced travelers.  A few other extreme options if you desperately need to leave:
  • Book a flight on Southwest as a back up.  You can cancel without penalty before departure.  It will probably cost more, but you will have a seat.  If your flight is cancelled, the original airline will refund your ticket (that half of the round trip most likely) without a change fee.
  • Book a refundable ticket on another carrier.  This will cost much more than Southwest, but it guarantees a seat out that day.

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