Tips to handle flight cancellations like a pro

12 August 2022
Tips to handle flight cancellations like a pro

Flight cancellations have been all over the news lately as airlines struggle with continued staffing shortfalls, summer weather, and air traffic control delays. UK airports have been forced to cap how many people can travel, and US airlines have taken the stand of preemptively trimming their schedules to ease air traffic problems.

In the wake of a long summer of flight cancellations, some travelers have been waiting weeks to get refunds. On average 1 out of 5 flights arrived behind schedule just in July 2022. 

Last week, the US Department of Transportation proposed a rule expanding the circumstances when airline passengers can get refunds. This is no comfort to passengers still waiting for refunds, but it may be a comfort to you if you’re traveling in the coming months. 

Note: The new rule isn’t in effect yet. The panel that advises the DOT meets August 22 and you can attend the meeting via Zoom if you register online. You can also submit comments at www.regulations.gov using docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089.

Want to know how to handle a flight cancellation like the pro travelers do right now? Read on to find out.

3-4 days before you travel

Most last-minute flight delays and cancellations are related to the weather. With your flight already booked, keep an eye on two things: the weather forecast and the airline you’re flying. 

All airlines typically offer temporary fee waivers when they expect issues like when a storm is forecast. By keeping an eye on your flight status and the weather, you can make changes before your flight is canceled and you’ll have more options before all the open seats are taken by other travelers.

Here’s how to find out about possible delays or cancellations before your flight:

  1. Accuweather offers a flight weather forecast that tells you if a delay is likely. 
  2. FlightAware lets you track your flight status (using the flight number) and you can receive alerts (basic subscription is free).
  3. Your airline’s app will also offer free notifications if you supply a preferred contact method.

Insider tip: Type your flight number into a Google search bar and you’ll get flight info from OAG, along with historical flight data.

Day of your trip

The magic time is just hours before you plan to leave for the airport. Most of the notifications are not last minute, and you could save yourself a drive to the airport.

  1. Check your flight status on the airline app as soon as you wake up.
  2. Quick look at FlightAware to track larger trends in delays or cancellations across the country.

All good? You can head to the airport.

Not so good? Here’s what to do:

  1. Check the airline app on your phone for notifications. If your flight is canceled, see if you’ve already been assigned a new departure time. If the rescheduled flight works for you, go back to bed.
  2. If you’ve not been rescheduled, use the app to find a new flight while you call the customer support number.

At the airport

Sometimes, despite all your efforts, the cancellation happens after you’ve arrived at the airport. Travel pros facing a flight cancellation know that there are options. And they don’t panic—they do these things instead.

If you haven’t checked in yet:

  1. Stop by the self-service kiosk and scan your airline ticket. You may be offered some new flight options there and you can adjust your trip.
  2. If not, open your airline app while you get in line for the counter.

If you’re already through security and at the terminal:

  1. Start walking to the airline counter (go quickly, this is a first-come, first-served situation) as you open your airline app.
  2. Send a text message to your airline. You can sometimes find your flight options in seconds through text.
  3. Go to Twitter and send a brief, polite tweet to your airline mentioning your predicament and flight info.
  4. If the line is long, call the airline while you’re in line.

Pro tip: if you’re on hold for a long time, try hanging up and calling the airline’s number in a different country. Sometimes those agents are not as busy and can help you.

The point is, you’ll want to try all the things at once. If you’re traveling with a partner, coordinate the efforts to see which one can help you quickly. If you don’t like the choices one agent gives you, just try the next option.

Finally, a scammer alert

As the summer of cancellations drags on, the scammers have come up with some new things.

I recently heard from the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker of a new airfare scam. It works like this: while searching for flights, you come across what looks like a great deal on a major airline. Some travelers have been booking those flights through the website or by calling the customer support number. 

It looks and seems legit, but it’s not. After making their payments, some have received calls from the ‘company’ saying there’s been a sudden increase or an extra charge to finalize the booking.

The takeaway: only book your airfare on legitimate airline websites, not third-party websites, and use a credit card so you can dispute the charge.

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Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.