Last weekend, Southwest Airlines’ flight cancellations — which included more than 2,000 flights between Friday and Sunday of the recent holiday weekend — left many travelers wondering what the future of air travel may look like.
The Federal Aviation Administration claimed that the delays occurred due to “widespread severe weather, military training, and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center,” CNN reported. But Southwest seemed to be the only airline severely impacted by the situation, according to FlightAware. American Airlines and Spirit Airlines only cancelled 2% of their flights, while more than 30% of Southwest flights were delayed or canceled during the three day weekend.
As Southwest flyers seek to recoup the funds they lost — ranging from the cost of rental cars to canceled AirBNB reservations — it pays to be prepared for future cancellations and delays, whatever the cause might be.
“Contrary to common perception, airlines are not obliged to reimburse customers when flights are delayed or cancelled on domestic routes,” explained Marc Tonkin, travel writer at JTGTravel.com. “Domestic travels are only obliged by law to provide compensation if you are taken off an oversold aircraft. There are no government regulations, so each airline has its own rules about what it will do for delayed customers waiting at the airport.”
With this in mind, it’s important to plan ahead and give yourself extra travel time for important events, be prepared for delays with a contingency plan and have the means to cover accommodations in the case of a flight delay or cancellation. It also doesn’t hurt to fight for reimbursement.
Travel experts shared some of their best tips for avoiding financial distress and other hassles while traveling, especially during the upcoming holiday season.
Get on the Next Best Flight
When you first learn of a flight delay or cancellation, your number one priority should be getting to your destination as soon as possible, in the most convenient way possible. For some flyers affected by the Southwest cancellations, this meant renting a car and driving.
But it still pays to try to book another flight, first, Tonkin said. “If your flight is cancelled, most airlines will rebook you on the next available flight to your destination at no extra cost. If there will be a substantial delay, find out if another airline has available space and ask the first airline if they would endorse your ticket to the other carrier.”
Check Credit Cards for Travel Insurance
In today’s tumultuous times, it might pay to invest in travel insurance ahead of your trip. But before spending the extra money, check to see if your credit cards offer this perk as part of your agreement.
“Most premium credit cards offer travel insurance that reimburses many non-refundable expenses such as hotel accommodation, meals and other essentials,” said Finn Cardiff, CEO of the beach and travel blog Beachfix. “Of course, to avail yourself of the reimbursement, you must have used the same credit card to pay for the trip.”
File Necessary Refund Paperwork
If your flight was canceled rather than delayed, you may have better odds of getting a full refund — but only if you ask. Jordan Bishop, founder of personal finance blog Yore Oyster, recommended calling the airline directly or filling out the necessary forms on their website.
“Airlines will have detailed instructions for requesting refunds,” he said. “Most airlines have some policies related to cancellations, but they will only apply if flyers actually call the airline and request a refund directly.”
Politely Ask for Reimbursement in Ways Besides Cash
If the airline refuses to reimburse the cost of your ticket, Bishop said to request other forms of compensation. Reimbursement could come in the form of steeply discounted or free seats on a future flight, frequent flyer miles or vouchers for hotels and restaurants near the airport. “[Airlines should offer] anything that will make flyers feel satisfied and compensated for these issues,” Bishop said.
If you get a customer service representative on the phone to discuss your issues, take a deep breath and remember to be nice. The delays are most likely not their fault, and you’re more likely to receive good service if you are kind and respectful. “Be polite while making your case, and you may receive more than just monetary compensation,” Cardiff suggested.
Share Your Thoughts on Social Media
If you’ve done your best to receive some form of compensation, only to be met with resistance, it may be time to take to the internet and voice your complaints.
“Flyers should also try tweeting about how upset they are on social media,” Bishop said. “This usually gets the airline’s attention pretty quickly and makes them act faster than they normally would if only a couple of passengers are filing complaints.”
Whether you’re making phone calls, sending emails or tweeting, Bishop suggested being strategic and organized in your approach. “The best course of action is to keep calm and take notes,” he said. “Make sure you record all flight numbers, dates, times and the names of everybody within customer service that you speak with. This will make it easier to build your complaint and have a better claim for compensation than if you’re just complaining haphazardly.”
Seek Other Ways To Save Money During the Delay
No matter how hard you try, airlines may not agree to cover hotel stays or meals in the case of delayed flights. Having a plan in place before you travel could help you save money. For instance, have a plan for a place to stay, if necessary. That could mean couch-surfing with a friend in the area or using your credit card or hotel rewards points to book a room at a discount. You can also ask local hotels about “distressed traveler” rates.
Pack a few bottles of water and snacks in your luggage, or even non-perishable meals, so you can save money by avoiding pricey airport food. And make sure you have an extra outfit or two in your bag so you aren’t tempted by that comfy, but expensive, hoodie at the airport gift shop. If you’re traveling with kids, make sure you’ve packed toys that will help pass the time.
Expect the Best, Plan for the Worst
The best way to minimize travel stress is to be proactive about getting to your destination on time. “If your trip is to complete a potentially profitable business transaction, deliver a speech or lecture, attend a family event or connect to a cruise, you may want to give yourself a little more flexibility and select an earlier flight,” Tonkin said. “In other words, flight cancellations aren’t uncommon, and defensive preparation is a smart idea when time is of the essence.”
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Last updated: October 13, 2021