What can you do about Flight Cancellations Due to Weather?
According to the Bureau of Transportation, over 1 billion people traveled by air in 2018, up 4.8% from the year before. This equates to 2,740,000 travelers around the world on over 102,000 flights every single day. Every single day. Of those flights, 20% of them will be delayed and 4% canceled, more during the winter months. With a little planning and these ten tips, you will get to your destination faster and with minimal inconvenience, and be prepared for whatever the airlines throw at you without losing your cool.
Previously, I offered a few tips about airline responsibility and passenger rights for flight delays and cancellations here, but the reality is that most flights are canceled due to weather conditions, and circumstances are a bit different. When a flight is canceled due to weather, the airline is responsible for getting you on another flight when the weather improves, but contrary to popular opinion, they are not responsible for getting you on the next flight, nor are they responsible for providing overnight accommodations and/or meals to passengers who are stranded. Sometimes they will accommodate passengers with an overnight stay and a meal voucher, but more and more, airlines do not. You can’t get mad at the airline, the weather is beyond their control, but you can be prepared and do a little due diligence of your own. There is nothing worse than being stranded in an unfamiliar city, especially during the holidays, but with a little preparation, you will know what to do.
Your Flight Is Canceled Due to Weather: A Scenario
Here’s a scenario: You have a flight from Point A to Point C, with a change of plane at Point B. Your flight from Point A to B is fine, but the flight from Point B to C is delayed several hours because of bad weather. After waiting at the gate for three hours, the crew times out. Damn!
It does not benefit the airline to bring in a new crew right away because the weather is still bad, so they cancel the flight. Now you have to wait on (a long) line to have the airline help you get on a new flight. After waiting forty minutes to get to the counter, they tell you there are no flights available tomorrow, so you are stuck at Point B for 24 hours or more.
Are you having fun yet? What do you do now? Hunker at a drafty airline gate in an uncomfortable plastic airline chair until your next flight to save money, or try to find an inexpensive hotel nearby so you can get some shut-eye? Forget getting a bite to eat, all the restaurants in the airport are closed and you don’t have a car. This sounds like a nightmare, right? Especially if you are traveling with kids. For many travelers, flight cancellations are a reality, but there are a few pro-active things you can do to prepare for these circumstances. The following apps will help you save time, money, and sanity.
Note: Most of these tips require you to do something in advance of your flight, so be prepared ahead of time.
Work With A Travel Agent
I know, I know, you can book travel all by yourself, you don’t need a travel agent. Plus, travel agents are no longer a thing, right? Wrong. The stories about travel agents (now commonly referred to as advisors) being a thing of the past are wrong. Today most people have crazy busy lives and do not have the time to spend on managing their travel needs, so they depend on a trusted travel advisor to help them with their travel plans. Plus, a travel advisor has tools you don’t have access to help you if a flight is canceled due to weather. As a travel advisor who has been in this business for almost 30 years, I can attest that while travel agents had a lull in the early 2000s, more people than ever are turning to travel agents to handle their travel needs.
Why work with a travel agent? They already know you and your travel needs and have all your personal information on file, including flight preferences and frequent flier information. They have knowledge and experience to work on unusual travel circumstances such as travel delays and cancellations, and they have contacts to get travel waiver codes and inside availability. Also, If you booked your original flight with them, they already have all your flight data, so they can get in the airline system to find a comparable flight for you, and even get a seat assignment if possible. If you are stranded overnight somewhere, you can give them a quick call and they can find and help arrange hotel accommodations for you, all with minimal stress.
Be careful, though, because not all travel agents are created equal. You want to work with someone who has affiliation with an IATA (International Air Transport Association) agency because they are specifically trained to work with airline reservations and have airline reservation (GDS) access. Also, make certain you work with a full-service ASTA (American Society of Travel Advisors) agency. An independent/outside agent of an IATA/ASTA agency is fine, as long as they have the ability to rebook airline reservations on their own, can see real-time flight status, and have access to airline waiver codes for flight cancellations, so you do not have to pay additional fees when changing flights related to weather.
Also, let me say this loud for the people in the back. When you purchase airline tickets from an online travel agency (you know the ones) they will not assist you with flight delays and cancellations, you are on your own and will be one of those people waiting in the mile-long airport line to get re-booked. Work with an experienced travel agent who knows you personally and is invested in keeping you happy as a client. In my agency, I have a program that monitors my client’s flights and alerts me if they are canceled so I can immediately assist in rebooking them. I also have an itinerary program that alerts my clients of any flight delays and cancellations. A travel agent is a valuable partner for your travel needs, especially when things go wrong.
Purchase Travel Insurance
When you purchase an airline ticket, the airline will ask you if you want to purchase insurance. If you work with a travel agent, they will offer insurance as well. Most people decline insurance, but you should not as the extra $15-20 you spend is worth every penny if your flight is delayed or canceled. Why? The insurance reimburses you for any expenses you may incur because of that cancellation, including overnight hotel stay and meals.
I’ll be honest, I never used to purchase insurance even for my own family travel, but 20 years ago everything changed, so now I purchase it for every trip.
We were living in Richmond, Virginia and traveling from Albany, New York back to Richmond with a connection in Philadelphia. It was January and were traveling with our son, 10-months-old at the time. I had a diaper bag with a few supplies, but certainly not for an overnight stay. Our flight was later in the day (rookie mistake). Our flight from Albany to Philadelphia was fine, but by the time we got into Philadelphia, the weather was bad and not letting up anytime soon. They delayed our flight for a few hours, then finally canceled it at about 10 pm that night, and we did not get out for another 24 hours. The airport was bitter cold, we had not eaten in hours, and had three diapers left. Fortunately, we were able to get a room at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott in-terminal. Room service was still open, so we were able to get a bite to eat, and the hotel found us two diapers, but that overnight stay was an expense we did not expect and cost us an extra $380. We did not have insurance for that trip.
Fast forward 18 years. My husband and I were on a flight from Albany to Phoenix, with a stop in Philadelphia. Once again, we were stranded in Philadelphia overnight, but this time we had travel insurance. That insurance cost us $18 per person but later reimbursed our $260 hotel + meal bill and we received reimbursement quickly, within 10 days.
Over the years, we’ve had situations where we had to come back early from a trip because of family illness, flight changes because of work, lost baggage by the airline, etc. and travel insurance covered it all. As a travel agent, I recommend travel insurance to all my clients, and as a private traveler, I purchase it every time my family travels. Travel insurance offers peace of mind and the nominal fee you pay is worth the time, money, and stress saved.
Note: If you do not want to purchase travel insurance, at least get yourself a credit card with good travel insurance benefits such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or American Express Platinum cards.
Use Flight View
Flight View is a flight tracker app you can download to your mobile device that will update you on the status of flights. I use it for my own flights and also anyone I might be picking up at the airport. Flight VIew will let you know if your flight is on-time or delayed, and shows data on the flight’s origination, so you can see any delays that happen before your flight even gets to your date. It also advises the type of plane you will travel on, the flight duration, and the terminal and gate assignments for the flight. Sometimes I get a notification from Flight View regarding an airline delay even before the airline contacts me! If your flight looks like it may be delayed, use Flight View to monitor for up-to-the-minute status.
Join Airline Frequent Flier Programs
Even if you do not fly often, sign up for airline frequent flier programs. Not only will you earn mileage toward free travel, but you will gain “status” with the airline and they may reward that loyalty by offering better assistance should your flight be canceled. Plus, once you have an account with the airline, you can use their airline app (see below) to get free in-flight WiFi, better seats, and upgrades. Here are a few US-based airlines to join.
- American Airlines Advantage
- Delta Airlines SkyMiles
- United Airlines Mileage Plus
- Southwest Air Rapid Rewards
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Jet Blue True Blue
- Hawaiian Air Hawaiian Miles
Download Airline Apps
Before you travel, download the app for the airline(s) you will be traveling on and make sure you are logged into your account. When the airline or Flight View alerts you that your flight has been canceled, you can go into the airline app and re-book yourself on a new flight. Some airlines, like American Airlines, will even offer you new flights to choose from in the app.
Keep Airline Customer Service Numbers Handy
Keep the customer service number for your airline handy if you need to contact them for any flight changes. Below is the customer service numbers for all the major US airlines:
- Alaska Air: 800-654-5669
- Allegiant Air: 702-505-8888
- American Air: 800-433-7300
- Delta Air: 800-221-1212
- Hawaiian Air: 877-426-4537
- Frontier Air: 801-401-9000
- Jet Blue Air: 800-538-2583
- Southwest Air: 800-435-9792
- United Air: 800-864-8331
Download Hotel Apps
Download hotel apps for your three favorite hotel chains and make sure you are signed up for their frequent traveler programs. When your flight gets canceled, you can immediately go into the app and book yourself a hotel room for the night. The app will also tell you the closest hotels to your location, so you may not have to travel far from the airport.
Bonus? Many airports have hotels located right in the terminal, so you don’t have to go far to find a nice pillow to rest on. The following are a few US airports with hotels located in-terminal.
San Francisco: Grant Hyatt San Francisco Airport
Dallas: Grand Hyatt DFW
Orlando: Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport
Philadelphia: Marriott Philadelphia Airport
Tampa: Marriott Tampa Airport
Denver: Westin Denver Airport
Download A Ride Share App
You found a hotel with availability but no way to get there. Or you have 24 hours in a city you did not expect to be in but want to explore. Don’t rent a car, use Uber or Lyft to get around! Download and sign up for one of the rideshare programs and you will have easy access to transportation to get where you need to go, on your schedule. If you are a woman traveling alone, be sure to use one of these rideshare programs for women only such as Go Safr.
Download Food Delivery Apps
You expected your flight to depart at 5:30 p.m, it was canceled at 9:30, and you finally got into your hotel room at 10:30 p.m. and room service is done for the night. A food delivery service like Door Dash or GrubHub will be a lifesaver when you limited transportation or access to restaurants. Most food delivery services will deliver to a hotel and many offer late-night delivery services, especially in larger cities.
Pack For Cancellations
Always pack a few extra items in your carry-on bag to be prepared for flight cancellations. Things like a travel toothbrush, extra snacks, diapers and toys for the kids, a warm pair of socks, and an extra sweater will help if you have to stay overnight.
What tips do you have to help cope with flight cancellations due to weather?