Flight Delayed? Here's How to Navigate Flight Cancellations
American travelers were furious during the 2022 holiday season when Southwest Airlines canceled over 16,000 flights. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first airline meltdown in the United States — and it certainly won’t be the last. However, there are some steps that you can take to avoid or minimize disruptions to your travel plans.
How to Prepare for Airline Disruptions Before They Happen
As with many difficult situations, the key to avoiding the worst problems is to prepare for them in advance. For example, some of the worst disruptions that Southwest Airlines passengers faced during the 2022 holiday flight cancellations was due to the airline’s failure to find travelers’ checked bags and deliver them to passengers in a timely manner. Fortunately, most problems can be avoided by taking one of these simple steps.
First, always anticipate that your bags can be lost, and have a backup plan. For example, your carry-on suitcase should include the clothing and toiletries that you will need during the first few days of your trip. This way, you’ll always be able to continue your trip without disruption until your bag is found, or your items can be replaced. As a general travel tip, avoid packing any valuables — such as electronics, keys or medications — in your checked bags.
Track Your Bags
Consider purchasing a bag-tracking device, such as an Apple AirTag. When you place one of these coin-sized devices in your checked bags, you’ll know precisely where it is. This can help you to verify the airline’s claims of its location and help you to locate your bag within a sea of hundreds of unclaimed suitcases.
Use Credit Card Travel Benefits
Another step that you can take is to purchase your flights with a credit card that offers travel insurance. Some premium rewards cards offer luggage-related benefits: Baggage delay insurance can help with expenses when your bag goes missing, and lost baggage coverage can provide a benefit if your bag is never returned. Other benefits can include trip delay insurance, which covers the cost of hotels and meals if your flight is canceled, and you are stuck overnight. You’ll receive these benefits automatically when you pay for your ticket with a card that offers them.
How to Handle Airline Problems When They Happen
To recover from a canceled flight as soon as possible, you’ll want to find the fastest route to obtaining customer service from the airline. When mass cancellation happens, you’ll often find hundreds — or even thousands — of passengers waiting in line for hours to speak to an airport representative. Instead of joining them, use virtually any other means of communication.
For example, some airlines allow you to rebook yourself on their mobile app, while others offer support through Twitter. You can also try calling the airline, especially if they offer a callback service. Some airlines also offer online chat support, which can be easier than calling.
At the airport, you can often find shorter lines at the airline lounge or even at the ticket counter in the terminal. When you reach customer service, always be prepared to suggest the alternative flights that you want; don’t rely completely on the airline to find the best routing for your needs.
Getting Compensated After Your Trip
Once you’ve returned home safely, it’s time to seek anything you’re owed. U.S. law now requires airlines to reimburse passengers up to $3,800 if their bag is lost, and most airlines will also reimburse you for reasonable expenses if your bag was delayed. If the flight delay was within the control of their airline, such as crew shortages or mechanical problems, then most carriers will reimburse you for food and lodging costs.
But if the cause of the delay was something outside of the airline’s control, such as weather or air traffic control problems, then most airlines won’t compensate you. However, the travel insurance offered by your credit card or third-party travel insurance will typically cover expenses incurred during any type of trip delay.
Some foreign countries have laws that require airlines to compensate passengers for delays. For example, the European Union has a law called EU261, which can mandate that passengers receive hundreds of dollars of compensation, depending on the length of delay. The United Kingdom and Canada also have similar laws.
As long as there are airlines, there will be delays. But by taking the right steps before, during and after your flight, you can minimize the impact of delays on your travel — and receive the maximum compensation available for your inconvenience.
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