Thousands of flights have been canceled worldwide as the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly, including among airline employees and crew members.
On Monday, at least 2,400 flights were grounded globally, including more than 900 US flights, according to FlightAware, which provides flight data. Flights were also delayed due to bad weather and maintenance issues. The cancellation caused chaos and frustration during one of the busiest travel times of the year, as people scramble to get to family reunions and holiday destinations.
The US Transportation Security Administration said millions of passengers were screened each day over the weekend, peaking at 2,187,792 on December 23; A year ago on the same day, less than 850,000 passengers were screened.
If you find yourself stuck in an airport with a canceled or delayed flight, here’s what you should know.
First things first: get ready before you go.
If possible, try to book directly with the airline rather than an online travel agency, which can make it more difficult to change your itinerary in case of cancellation or delay.
“Your rights under the law remain the same,” said Scott Keys, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a service that tracks and emails customers air ticket deals. But he said dealing with an airline “would be simpler and more efficient overall”.
You should also make sure you have all the documents needed to travel, such as a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination, which many countries require for entry. “A lot of people don’t have the right information before they get to the airport, and there’s a lot of confusion,” said Michael Holtz, CEO of SmartFlyer, a luxury travel agency based in New York City.
Check in 24 hours before your flight, and if possible, Holtz recommends traveling with just a hand luggage so you can skip the check-in or baggage delivery lines, which can often be very long.
You should also continue to check the status of your flight prior to departure, in case of any delays or changes to your flight. It can be helpful to download the app for the airline you’re flying with so that you can easily keep track of your flight and any schedule changes.
What should I do if my flight is delayed?
Under federal law, airlines are obligated to offer customers a full refund if a flight is significantly delayed and a passenger chooses not to fly. The airline specifies what constitutes significant delays, but Keys said two hours is usually a good rule of thumb. You should check the airline’s website for their contract of carriage, which outlines the policies, for more specific information.
If you choose to travel, you should stand in line to speak with a gate agent to discuss your options. You will usually be placed on the next flight with seats available. You can also call the airline, but given the long wait times on a lot of customer service lines in the US, Keyes recommends trying one of the airline’s international numbers, which are listed on the “Contact Us” pages of their website, and they may have a shorter wait time .
He said, “You want to make sure you know cell phone rates, but if you’re calling Canada, that’s two cents a minute. It’s a 20-minute call versus a three hour wait if you’re calling a hotline in the US. I think it’s 40 cents.” .
If you booked through an online travel agency, such as Expedia or Orbitz, you will need to contact them directly to resolve your issue. “The airline in general wouldn’t want to do business with you,” Keyes said.
If you choose to continue traveling, you are not entitled to compensation under federal law, but some airlines may offer it if the delay is their fault, such as if it is caused by a mechanical or personnel issue.
American Airlines spokesman Andrea Koze said, for example, that American Airlines, for example, will arrange overnight stays for customers whose flight has been delayed and who do not board before midnight on the day of their scheduled arrival.
JetBlue offers compensation for flights that are three hours or more late, from $50 to $200, depending on the length of the delay. If your flight was booked directly through the airline, it will send you an email within seven days of your scheduled flight departure to provide instructions for receiving compensation, in accordance with its charter of customer rights. If you booked through a third party, such as Expedia or Orbitz, you will need to call that company’s customer service line to claim a possible compensation.
If the delay is an act of God, like bad weather, and you’re stuck somewhere overnight, you’re on your own when it comes to meals and lodging.
What should I do if my flight is cancelled?
If your flight is canceled by the airline, you will be accommodated on a subsequent flight or, if you decide not to travel, you are entitled to a full refund under federal law. If a flight has multiple stops, the unused portion of the trip will be refunded.
Often times, airlines will offer travel credits or vouchers in lieu of a full refund, usually valid within a year of use. “That’s why it’s so important to know your rights under the law,” Keyes said. “If you decide not to take a flight, try paying to get cash back instead of getting a voucher. This may seem too obvious, but cash is more valuable than an airline voucher.”
Keyes recommends doing your own research in advance to see which flight works best for you, including researching your carrier’s partner airlines, and asking the agent if there is room on another airline’s flight.
“When a flight is canceled, agents have a lot to deal with, and they are just trying to figure out how to resolve the situation,” he said. “They’re not necessarily trying to figure out what is the best, simplest, and most appropriate flight for your specific situation.”
While you’re in line, contact the airline or online travel agency you booked your flight with, in case you can get help before getting to the gate agent.
In recent years, travelers have turned to social media to express travel frustration or reach out to customer service, but Keys said airlines encourage people to call their customer service lines.
Airlines may also offer reimbursements, but you are not entitled to them under federal law. In the case of JetBlue, if it cancels a flight within four hours of its departure and cannot accommodate a passenger within an hour of the scheduled departure time, it offers a compensation of $50. If the cancellation occurs after the scheduled departure, the number increases to $100.
Delta will place passengers whose flights have been canceled between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in a contracted hotel for the night, but when rooms are not available, it provides a voucher of up to $100 that can be used on future travel.
If you think your experience requires compensation, just ask. “Overall, airlines will be more cooperative in terms of compensation if the flight is cancelled,” Holtz said.
Be sure to be nice and polite, Keyes said.
“If you’re an airline agent, especially with these hour-long reservations, your whole day will be spent dealing with angry, frustrated, and impatient customers who don’t treat you as honestly as you should be treated,” he said. “If they have someone who actually treats them humanely, I think they will probably do everything they can to try to help you.”
Keys also noted that airline agents have a fair amount of discretion, so you shouldn’t give in if the person you’re talking to isn’t responsive.
“Instead of trying to pressure or argue with this person, who will never work,” he said, hang up and call again. “You’ll pass on to one of thousands of other customers, each of whom might say ‘yes.'”
How do I redeem travel credit?
If you receive travel credit for a canceled flight and book directly through the airline, you will usually be able to redeem it directly through the airline’s app or website.
After logging into your account, there will be an option to apply a travel credit to your purchases when you check out.
Airlines usually send an email with instructions for redeeming the travel credit, but the information can also be found on the airlines’ websites. American Airlines, for example, gives detailed instructions on how to redeem the different types of credits it gives travelers.
But the type of ticket you buy matters. If you originally purchased a basic economy ticket, which is technically non-refundable, you may have to contact the airline directly for a rebooking.
If you book through an online travel agency, Keys said, the credit on their site will need to be used.