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Whether it’s caused by a snow storm or unexpected mechanical problems, the average flyer may find himself the victim of a canceled flight at least once.
Since you’re likely to be surrounded by hundreds of other stranded passengers, moving quickly is essential to get your travel plans back in order.
Arming yourself with a plan can make the difference between getting on the next flight out and sleeping in an airport chair.
Start planning for a canceled flight before you even leave for the airport.
Check the flight status online a few hours before your plane is due to leave, particularly when rain or snow is predicted. When a storm is coming, some airlines will post offers on their websites that allow passengers to switch to later flights without paying a change fee.
If you find that your flight has already been canceled, you can start calling the airline reservations desk right away for more information.
Before you leave home, program the number of the reservations hotline into your phone, as well as the number of your travel agent, if you used one to plan your travel.
Get in Line
As soon as you see those dreaded words, “Canceled,” pop up on the departure screen, head straight to the nearest airline customer service desk; these desks should be located throughout the terminal.
Ask a representative to book you onto the next available flight. Most airlines will book you onto a different carrier’s flight if their own airline doesn’t have another flight available; ask if this is an option and verify that you won’t be charged any additional fee for this service.
Get on the Phone
When you find yourself in a long line at the customer service desk, call the reservation hotline while you’re waiting. If a crowd of other displaced passengers is in front of you, you may be able to get a representative on the phone before you speak to one in person.
After you reach a live person, explain the situation and ask that they schedule you on the next flight out.
If you have a phone or laptop with an Internet connection, log into the flight status or flight management system of the airline’s website; in some cases, you might find you’ve already been automatically rebooked on a new flight.
If all flights are canceled due to weather, you may have little to do except wait out the storm.
Ask the agent at your departure gate if the airline gives out food vouchers to stranded travelers. If it’s getting dark, and it’s clear you won’t be flying out that night, start looking into hotels immediately.
Some airlines will pay for a hotel stay if the cancellation is caused by mechanical troubles, but you’re generally on your own if you’re grounded because of weather.
Ask the gate agent for a voucher that will grant you a reduced rate at an airport hotel.
Keep calling the reservation hotline every hour; as soon as the storm ends and they start rebooking passengers, you’ll be at the head of the line.