If we lived in a perfect world, when we make travel plans, they would always go off without a hitch, but unfortunately we don’t, so it’s always best to be prepared for something to happen. We spend a lot of time and money trying to perfect our travel plans, so it’s especially important to know your rights in regards to flights that can mess up those carefully crafted plans.
Recently my flight home from Iceland was cancelled (as I wrote about here), and I was rebooked for a flight 2 days later, so maybe my experience can help others. Many of these tips apply equally to any cancelled flight, but it can be extra stressful for many people when you are stuck in a foreign country, especially if you don’t speak the local language, so my emphasis is on international flights in foreign countries.
- Act Fast
First and foremost, if you are at the airport when your flight is cancelled, do not hesitate. Listen closely to the instructions, and immediately go to the designated desk for help. The reason for this is that it will take a lot of time to process each passenger, provide vouchers, and rebook if necessary, so you will want to be as close to the front of the line as possible. The best alternative flights, and hotels if necessary, fill up quickly, so this is important. (This is even of extra importance if the whole airport is shut down and all flights are cancelled, as in my recent experience.) If you are social media savvy, sometimes you can bypass the long lines by contacting the Twitter or Facebook customer service team for your selected airline, but it is best to get in line while you try other avenues. Another option if you have cell service is to call customer service.
- Ask Questions
Customer service employees in all fields, not just at airlines, are not always the most forthcoming with information. This will likely be a stressful situation for you, so whether you are speaking with them in person, on the phone, or on social media, be sure to ask questions. On international trips, if your flight is cancelled, you will almost certainly have to wait at least a day until your new flight, so write down everything the airline representative tells you. Hotel and transportation details, meal details, and when you can expect to hear when your new flight will be, if that hasn’t been settled yet.
- Find Out Schedules
If you will be provided a hotel room for the night, and transportation from and back to the airport, be sure to find out when the transportation will leave back to the airport. I once had a flight from Dallas diverted to Panama when the airport in Costa Rica was closed early. All the passengers on the flight were bussed to the same hotel. In the morning I missed the bus back to the airport because I assumed I had more time then I actually did.
- Be Aware of All Avenues of Communication
Sometimes you will have to wait to be rebooked, or to find when your new flight will leave. Be sure to have all avenues of communication open, to give you the best chance of contacting the airline in case of issues. Download the airline’s app, take down their email address and phone number, and be aware of how to reach them on social media if necessary. When my 5:25pm flight from Iceland to Orlando was cancelled on a Friday I was assured that I would be able to get home on the same flight on Saturday. I felt fairly certain that that wouldn’t be the case, and sure enough the first communication I received from Icelandair was at 6:33pm on Saturday. I had tried a few times to message the airline via Facebook, but received no response. Fortunately I had been monitoring the “Manage my Booking” section of their website, and it appeared that I had been re-booked on Sunday’s flight so I wasn’t worried at all on Saturday. I can definitely see where a casual traveler would have been quite stressed out having to wait more than 24 hrs for the first communication.
- Save All Receipts/ Boarding Passes, Etc.
Yes, you will likely get a voucher for meals, a hotel, and transportation if necessary, but things can happen beyond that. You’ll want to submit receipts to the airline for re-payment if you have any out of pocket expenses due to the delay. In my recent example, Icelandair sent me to the Canopy by Hilton Reykjavík on Friday night, and provided for my meals at the hotel. That was great, but on Saturday morning when I realized I needed another night, the Canopy was full, so I had to switch hotels. Obviously I didn’t have another hotel voucher, since Icelandair had assured me I would be flying on Saturday, so I had to improvise and find my own accommodations. I also had to eat, so I will be asking the airline to reimburse my costs for those meals and that hotel night, which ended up being around $300. Be sure to hold on tight to those receipts, but it’s also a good idea to hold onto your boarding passes and receipts, as well as any correspondence that you may need later to help prove your case!
- Take Advantage of Extra Time
If you are forced to stay an extra day or more in a far away city, make the most of it. See the sites that you may have missed, or just get out and walk around. It may be natural to be stressed out when your travel plans go sideways, but try to enjoy yourself as much as possible. When my flight home from Iceland was cancelled, I was given the choice between a hotel near the airport, or a hotel back in Reykjavík. Knowing that there was a whole lot of nothing around the airport, and that Reykjavík, even though a 45-50 minute drive away, was a wonderful city with a lot to see and do, it was an easy choice. And when my stay was extended an extra day, it had become an even better decision. I was able to turn a bad situation into two extra days of sightseeing in a beautiful city.
- See if You Are Owed Compensation
Many credit cards and travel insurance policies these days offer delayed or cancelled trip insurance. If you booked your trip with such a credit card or purchased a travel insurance policy, check to see if you can file a claim. In addition to that, if your flight was departing the European Union, you may be entitled to up to €600 compensation. Depending on the circumstances of your flight delay or cancellation, the EU has strict laws requiring airlines to compensate you in these cases. My most recent cancelled flight leaving Iceland was not eligible for EC261 compensation since high winds were the cause, but a couple of years ago my flight from Zurich to New York was canceled for mechanical reasons and American Airlines gave me a choice between €600 cash or an $800 AA voucher. You will have to request this compensation from the airline. They will not reach out to you.
Sometimes things happen and you find yourself in a situation where your flight is cancelled. If it happens on a U.S. domestic flight, some of these things probably won’t apply, but if you are in a foreign country, stay calm and organized, and follow some of these tips, and you may find it easier to deal with than you would have thought.