What should I do if my flight is canceled or delayed?

(CNN) — What happens if you are one of the unlucky passengers whose flight is canceled or delayed? Here are some tips to help travelers navigate when flights are delayed or cancelled, whether due to lack of staff, weather or other issues.

Avoid getting stuck at the airport

As bad as it is to find out that your flight was long delayed, or worse yet, canceled, it’s better to find out from the comfort of home or a hotel room and make further arrangements from there.

“Check the status of your flight before you go to the airport. Most of these notifications don’t happen until the last minute,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Save yourself the trip to the airport.”

Keyes told CNN Travel that you should sign up for airlines’ free text alerts about flight status when you buy your ticket. You should also download your airline’s app.

You can also put the airline and flight number directly into the Google search bar to get the status of your flight. This is also useful for friends or family waiting to pick you up.

Keyes also suggests checking out the website FlightAware to follow the trends of the largest flights.

If you are already at the airport

Sometimes flight delays and cancellations occur after you have arrived at the airport. Once the bad news is received, what should be done?

Keyes says make your way to the airline agent counter as quickly as possible, and be prepared to multitask while standing in line.

Fast is a keyword here. “It’s going to make a difference who comes first. First come, first served. Positioning yourself near the counter can pay off,” says Keyes.

So, call your company while you wait. Depending on where you are in line, it may be quicker to go to a call center. “Which comes first, great,” she says.

Calls to US domestic numbers can have very long wait times. Keyes suggests that you try calling your airline’s international call center.

“Most U.S. travelers don’t think to call Delta’s Canadian helpline. You may be able to get in touch with an agent much faster. All of them can handle your reservations equally.”

You can also use a self-service kiosk, says American Airlines. “Scan your boarding pass or enter your check-in locator to see the updated details of your trip. From there you can also change your flight and print your new boarding passes.”

Attitude and research are important

Whether you’re dealing with an agent in person or over the phone, how you approach the situation can make a big difference. That starts with attitude.

“Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” says Keyes. “Look at it from the perspective of airline agents. They’ve been dealing with angry customers since the pandemic started. The agent is the one most capable of helping 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 comes to talking to an agent to make new arrangements: “Come prepared to offer your own options now. Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.”

Your agent can speed things up if you’ve already looked up new routes and potential suggestions while you wait. Be prepared to explain what you want.

If you booked through Expedia or another third party website, you will have to deal with them when there is a cancellation.

If the price is the same, Keyes suggests you book directly with the airline. In case something goes wrong, “it gets much more complicated with multiple sets of policies” when booking through a third party.

The consumer advocacy group US PIRG suggests that stopovers be avoided where possible when booking. The more times you stop, the more chance there is that something will go wrong.

The group also endorses Keyes’ advice to be courteous and polite with agents, but also says consumers need to be persistent in trying to get the situation resolved satisfactorily.

trapped for the night

What to do if it seems that you will not be able to fly until the next day and you are not in your city?

“Ask the airline to put you up in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They may or may not. The law doesn’t require it,” says Keyes.

They’re less likely to do so if it’s weather-related, he says, than if the problem is a plane mechanic or personnel.

Keyes points out that staffing is a major issue in this latest wave of cancellations, as the spread of omicron makes employees unable to work. What can be achieved depends on the airline itself and the specific circumstances of why a flight has been cancelled.

Learn about the policies. For example, Delta Air Lines says which will provide a hotel voucher in some circumstances if the trip is interrupted more than four hours after the scheduled departure time when the delay occurs between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Whatever you do, at least ask, says Keyes. They may not simply offer you a voucher for hotels and even ground transportation and meals.

You should also look up your credit card information. Keyes points out that your card may have protections for passengers, including free hotel rooms if you get stranded and maybe even cover food and cab fare. Find out what you have to do to get reimbursed.

If your flight is delayed rather than canceled outright, you may want to consider waiting at the airport. Depending on your personal circumstances, staying there for five or six hours may be easier than going to and from a hotel. Also, Keyes says to check if there is a hotel inside the airport.

The Points Guy advises try to get into an airport VIP lounge if you can, where you can recharge your phone and rest more easily.

Cancel the trip and fly later

If you had a flight scheduled for this week and you’re worried about omicron, airlines were offering free changes to your flight, Keyes says. If you wanted to change the dates of your trip, you could do it without penalty.

It also mentions that if the new travel dates are cheaper, you can get a travel credit. (On the contrary, you will pay more if the flight is more expensive).

“By moving a flight from this holiday to February, you’re less likely to run into this omicron situation. You could save a couple hundred bucks.”

Flight refund rights

In the case of the United States, the Department of Transportation (DOT, for its acronym in English) says that you are entitled to a refund of the cost of your ticket if there is a cancellation or a “significant delay” and you decide not to travel.

This is the policy regardless of the reason the airline cancels or delays the flight. However, what is a “significant delay” is open to interpretation.

According to the DOT website, “What constitutes a ‘significant delay’ has not been specifically defined. Entitlement to reimbursement depends on many factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances. DOT determines whether You are entitled to a refund after a significant delay on a case-by-case basis.”

CNN’s Forrest Brown, Gregory Wallace, Jordan Valinsky, Chris Liakos and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.

editor’s note: This text was initially published in December 2021 and was updated in 2022.

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