Last but not least, the trials of this unpredictable travel landscape have taught travelers to expect the unexpected. But if you’re not ready to stay in limbo, consider this your one-stop shop for everything you need before you head out on your next flight.
You should prepare for cancellations and delays before you even arrive at the airport. In fact, you do it as soon as you book a flight. Phil Dengler, co-founder of travel blog The Vacationer, says start booking directly with the airline rather than a third party.
“If your flight is cancelled, you should speak to a customer service representative. Book direct with the airline so you have access in case something goes wrong,” says Dengler. And if possible, avoid flights with stopovers when booking flights. More stops only increase the likelihood of travel chaos, he says.
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It is also important to book one of the first flights of the day. Cancellations and delays have a knock-on effect, and flying early reduces the likelihood of problems – and gives you more flight options later in the day if you run into problems.
Use technology to your advantage
Dengler and Heather Poole, a flight attendant at American Airlines, both offered the same advice: Download the airline’s app and be ready to tweet if your flight is canceled. The airline apps can alert you to gate changes and cancellations before the information reaches the gate agent. And once a flight has been cancelled, direct messages to an airline’s Twitter account can be the quickest way to speak to someone as companies continue to struggle with hours of phone waits.
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Airline apps can also help you avoid queuing at the check-in counter by allowing you to 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 register their checked bags before they arrive at the airport and transfer their flight information to electronic bag tags via an app.
If your flight is cancelled, the airline’s app is probably the quickest way to see what other flights the airline is offering.
For a flight that arrives or departs from the United States, you are eligible for a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you decide not to use another option in accordance with US Department of Transportation regulations. This also applies if you are involuntarily downgraded to a lower service than you paid for. There are no laws requiring US airlines to provide hotels, meal vouchers, or other services beyond airfare, but you should always ask your airline what they can do. These services usually need to 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 voluntarily give up your seat. Airlines are allowed to overbook flights and there is no minimum they have to offer when asking travelers if someone is willing to take a later flight. Recently, passengers have reported that airlines have offered thousands of people to volunteer to kick themselves off flights.
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If you are involuntarily bumped, airlines should provide you with a form detailing your compensation claims, which are often tied to arrival at your final destination. Remember that most airlines require you to be checked in or at the boarding gate by a certain time in order to be eligible for compensation over and above the cost of the flight.
Compensation rules vary around the world. For flights within Europe, the EU 261 regulation sets out compensation rules and assistance for passengers if their flight is canceled, delayed or if they are unable to 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 more than two hours, you’re entitled to meals.
There is a checklist of eligibility requirements for the cause of the delay that must be met in order to claim compensation – passengers must be checked in on time, the airline must be responsible for the delay, and the flight must have departed or landed in the EU to to name a few. Airlines are not required to provide compensation in “extraordinary circumstances” which include bad weather and safety risks, among others.
When you’re stuck at the airport, you probably want to be able to use all your devices. An external battery might set you back $30 or more, but it’s worth knowing you don’t have to fight for outlets or be tied to a wall if you need to rebook on your phone or use it for entertainment.
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Also, food at the airport is expensive. Even if you’re unfazed by the price, there are no guaranteed options as airports cope with staffing shortages. “Peanut butter and jelly tastes 1,000 times better than anything you get on a plane,” Poole said. As a flight attendant, she often carries oatmeal, tuna, crackers, and almonds.
Finally, a book, magazine, or other non-electronic form of entertainment can help bridge the time when you can’t use your phone.
A canceled flight doesn’t make anyone happy. Fellow passengers are frustrated, and airlines currently have fewer staff to deal with heightened emotions. Poole said, citing her 25 years of experience: “Just a smile is enough. Like a request and a thank you… . Now more than ever you just want to do anything for the person who is nice.”
“It’s just so rare to have someone who’s calm and patient and kind,” she said. “If I could do anything for someone like that, I would do anything.”