No matter how much planning you do for your vacation, nothing can prepare you for the nightmare of a canceled flight. Suddenly, your dreams of cocktails on the beach suddenly shatter before your eyes as you stare at that dreaded word in red sitting where your gate number should be. If you've never been in this situation, you are lucky. If you have, you will know how much it sucks.
There are some things you can do to pre-empt flight cancellations, such as flying in the morning or checking the airline and airport's website for updates before you leave the house. But, at the end of the day, there is little you can do if Mother Nature strikes.
Whether you have experienced a canceled flight or not in the past, knowing what to do when this happens is invaluable. Not only will it save you time and money, but it will give you peace of mind knowing you've got things under control.
So, when everything goes wrong at the airport, here is what your next steps should be.
Find Out If You Are Entitled to Compensation From the Airline
There is no federal law in the US that requires airlines to provide compensation for canceled flights. However, many airlines will offer something as a good business practice. Ask the airline directly what they will offer you. If your flight was set to depart from the EU, no matter which airline, you are legally entitled to canceled flight compensation. Make sure you know your rights before you fly.
Get Yourself a Hotel Room
If your flight is canceled late in the evening – say after about 7 pm, then the chances of you being able to fly out the same day are slim. This is especially true if you are flying to a small airport or the conditions are so bad that no flights are leaving. Don't lie around on the airport floor waiting for something to happen. Call it a day and check into a nearby hotel – at least you will be comfortable. Some airlines will even give you hotel or meal vouchers to help with the cost.
Call the Airline Directly
That poor guy standing at the check-in desk dealing with dozens of angry passengers doesn't know what he's doing. Even if he has had this job for a decade, on the ground staff are often as uninformed as you. Call the airline directly and ask them for information – they will be much more helpful. Ask when the next flight is or if you can be booked onto another airline's flight (they don't have to do this but it's always worth asking).
Tweet the Airlines
Social media is a powerful tool and airlines are usually particularly responsive to tweets from disgruntled passengers. It is, after all, in their best interest to avoid negative publicity. Be polite and tweet the airline explaining your situation. Ask if there is anything they can do to help you. You might be surprised at what you can achieve in just 280 characters.
Be an Informed Negotiator
Don’t sign or accept anything from your airline until you have fully assessed all of your options. That flight voucher they are offering you know might be far less valuable than the compensation you could get if you escalated the situation – cheap flights, for example. Of course, if your aim is simply to get to your destination and you don’t care about anything else then take the free flight. If you have the luxury of a little extra time and energy then negotiate hard for the best deal.
Keep All of Your Documents
Your boarding pass and any other documents you might have relating to your canceled flight are incredibly valuable. Many airlines will not accept claims for compensation unless you provide evidence you were going to be on that flight. This means an email confirmation or proof of purchase is not enough. You need to prove you were there, at the airport, and were directly inconvenienced by the cancellation of the flight.
Keep Your Cool
It is easy to lose your cool when disaster strikes. You didn’t do anything wrong and yet you are the one suffering. It’s unfair but that’s life sometimes. But, among the many things you should never do on a plane or in an airport, lashing out at airport staff is at the top of the list. It won’t get you anywhere. In fact, it will damage your chances of being compensated or assisted. Be polite and understand that it is not the airline staff’s fault that there’s a hurricane outside. You’ll find people are much more willing to help you when you approach them with a smile.