What should I do if my flight has been canceled or delayed?
(CNN) — Bad weather. Computer problems. Lack of staff. It’s been hard work for some air travelers this year.
What if you were one of the unlucky passengers caught in there? Here are some tips to help travelers navigate the system when flights are delayed or canceled, whether due to staff shortages, weather conditions or other issues:
Avoid being trapped at the airport
As bad as it may be to find out that your flight has been delayed for a long time, or worse, cancelled, it’s best to find out from the comfort of home or a hotel room and make new arrangements from of the.
You can also put your airline and flight number directly into a Google search bar to retrieve the status that way. It’s also convenient for friends or family who are willing to pick you up.
If you are already at the airport
A flight information display system shows departure times at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Monday, Dec. 27.
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Sometimes delays and cancellations happen after you arrive at the airport. Once the bad news is announced, what to do?
Keyes said to head as fast as you can to the airline agent desk — and be prepared to multitask while you wait in line.
Fast is a key word here. “It’s going to make a difference who comes first. It’s first come, first served. Positioning yourself close to the desk can pay off,” Keyes said.
Then call your carrier while you wait. Depending on your place in the queue, it may be faster to reach a call center. “Whatever comes first, great,” he said.
Calls to domestic US numbers can have very long waits. Keyes suggested trying an international call center for your carrier instead.
“Most US-based travelers don’t think to call the Canadian hotline for Delta. You could reach an agent much faster. They can all handle your reservations the same way.”
Attitude and research material
Passengers line up to check in for their flights at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Monday, Dec. 27.
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Whether you’re dealing with an agent in person or over the phone, how you approach things can make a big difference. It starts with attitude.
“Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” Keyes said. “Look at it from the perspective of airline agents. They’ve really been dealing with angry customers since the start of the pandemic. The agent is the one with the most ability to help you.
“Asking nicely and sympathetically is much more likely to get what you want than being a jerk about it.”
He had another piece of advice when it’s your turn to talk to an agent about making new arrangements: “Be prepared to come up with your own options already. Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.
Your agent can speed things up if you’ve already researched new routes and possible suggestions while you’ve been waiting. Be prepared to explain whatever you want.
If you booked through Expedia or another third-party site, you will need to process them in the event of a cancellation.
If the price is the same, Keyes suggested you book directly with the airline. If there’s a problem, “it makes things a lot more complicated with multiple sets of policies” when you’ve booked through a third party.
The group also supports Keyes’ advice to be nice and polite to agents, but also says consumers should persevere in trying to resolve the situation satisfactorily.
Trapped for the night
A woman and child wait for their flight alongside another traveler at Miami International Airport on Monday, December 27.
What do you do if it looks like you won’t be able to fly until the next day and you’re not in your hometown?
“Ask the airline to put you in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They might do that, they might not. It’s not required by law,” Keyes said.
They’re less likely to do so if it’s weather-related, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical issue with the plane or personnel issues.
What you might get depends on the airline itself and the specific circumstances for which a flight was cancelled.
Whatever you do, at least ask, Keyes says. A voucher for hotels and even ground transportation and meals will probably not just be offered.
You should also look up your credit card information. Keyes said your card could have passenger protections, including free hotel rooms if you get stranded and maybe even cover your food and taxi ride to the hotel. See what you need to do to get reimbursed.
If your flight is delayed instead of canceled outright, you may want to weigh whether to wait at the airport. Depending on your personal situation, staying there for five or six hours may be easier than going to and from a hotel. Also, said Keyes, check to see if there’s a hotel in the airport.
Refund rights for your flight
This is the policy regardless of why the airlines cancel or delay the flight. However, what “significant delay” remains open to interpretation.
According to the DOT’s website, “it has not specifically defined what constitutes a ‘significant delay.’ Entitlement to a refund depends on many factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular situation. The DOT determines on a case-by-case basis whether you are eligible for a refund following a material delay on a case-by-case basis.”
CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.