Metro Weekly

What to do if your flight is suddenly cancelled

Being prepared and knowing how best to get yourself rebooked can help get you to where you need to be

800px-Arrivals_board,_Heathrow_T5,_April_16_2010
By KTo288 via Wikimedia Commons

This past weekend’s air traffic control snafu was horrible for thousands of airline passengers. However, canceled flights due to mechanical problems, bad weather, or other unforeseen circumstances are commonplace. Being prepared and knowing how best to get yourself rebooked can help reduce the stress of the situation and get you to where you need to be.

When faced with a canceled flight, the first thing you need to do is not get upset. It does you no good, and you need a clear head to start the strategic game of getting yourself on the next best available flight.  

You’ll want to immediately beeline it to the gate agent’s counter, and, since the odds are you won’t be the first person in line, you need to simultaneously call the airline’s reservations desk. Be sure to have your reservation confirmation number handy so the agent can quickly access your flight information, and tell them you want to be rebooked on the next available flight. 

Be alert — the representative is likely going to default you to flights that are convenient for the airline and may or may not be convenient for you. For example, if you were originally scheduled to fly back to Washington National Airport, the representative might push you to fly to Dulles International Airport or Baltimore-Washington International, which could be a problem if you then have to deal with potentially expensive ground transportation issues. In some cases the opposite scenario could occur — you might be perfectly fine with going to Dulles or BWI but the representative looks only at flights at National.

It’s also important to note that the airline’s own booking system often provides representative with a limited number of alternative flights to share with you. In many cases, if you (or a travel companion) are able to access the airline’s website, you might be able to locate and suggest alternatives directly to the rep.

Should the rebooking process end with you having to wait until the next day for your flight and you’re not in your home city, ask the airline rep what assistance they can provide. In general, if the cancellation of the flight is the fault of the airline, such as mechanical problems, you can often get booked into a free hotel room and even provided a meal or two. However, if the cancellation is the result of weather or another issue beyond the airline’s control, you’ll more than likely have to fend for yourself.  

Above all else, be as polite as possible to the person helping you. They hold the power, and you want them to like you. More importantly — you want them to get you were you need to go.

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