By Forrest Brown, CNN
It’s been hard work for some air travelers since the winter vacation rush.
Between the spike in cases of Omicron variants causing staff shortages and bad winter weather, airlines have canceled and delayed thousands of flights since December 23.
This week, you can still blame the weather.
CNN Business reports that US airlines canceled thousands of flights Thursday due to a massive winter storm.
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.
“Check your flight status before you get to the airport. Most of these notifications don’t happen at the last minute,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. to the airport.”
Keyes told CNN Travel in an interview late last year that you should sign up for free airline text alerts about flight status when you buy your ticket. You also need to download your carrier’s app.
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.
Keyes also suggested checking the FlightAware website to track larger flight trends across the country.
If you are already at the airport
Sometimes delays and cancellations happen after you arrive at the airport. Once the bad news is announced, what to do?
Keyes said to head to the airline agent desk as quickly as possible — and be prepared to multitask while you’re on the line.
Fast is a key word here. “It will make a difference which will come 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 Delta Hotline. You could reach an agent much faster. They can all manage your reservations in the same way.
You can also use a self-service kiosk, says American Airlines. “Scan your boarding pass or enter your check-in locator to see your updated trip details. From here you can also change flights and print your new boarding passes.
Attitude and research material
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 this from the perspective of the airline agents. They have really been dealing with irate customers since the start of the pandemic. The agent is the one who has 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.
US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, suggests you avoid layovers when booking if possible. The longer you stop, the more likely something will go wrong.
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
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 up in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They might; 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.
Get to know the policies. For example, Delta Air Lines says it will provide a hotel voucher under certain circumstances if travel is interrupted for more than four hours after the scheduled departure time when the delay is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
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 rather than canceled altogether, 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.
The Points Guy advises trying to get into an airport lounge if you can, where you can charge your phone and rest more easily.
Cancel your trip and travel later
“If you have to fly…and you’re worried about Omicron, airlines offer free changes to your flight,” Keyes said. “If you wish to change your travel dates, you can change without penalty.”
He also noted that if the new travel dates are cheaper, you can get travel credit. (Conversely, you’ll pay more if the flight is more expensive.)
Refund rights for your flight
The U.S. Department of Transportation states that you are entitled to a refund of the cost of your ticket due to cancellation or “significant delay” and choose not to travel.
This is the policy regardless of why the airlines cancel or delay the flight. However, what “significant delay” remains subject 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 due to a significant delay.
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CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Jordan Valinsky, Chris Liakos and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.