The airlines canceling thousands of flights has become a recurring news story and a recurring nightmare for the thousands of passengers whose flights get impacted. The airlines, still in recovery mode from Covid staffing shortages, continue to deal with illness that grounds whole swaths of their workforce on top of the usual weather issues.
In this era of airline unreliability, what’s a passenger to do? Here’s everything we suggest for travelers in this situation.
Take a multifaceted approach to troubleshooting your flight cancellation
When an airline cancels hundreds of flights in one day, you can bet they’re overwhelmed. It benefits the traveler who can pivot, approach the airline through multiple channels, all the while implementing “Plan B.” We’d love to say there’s a simple solution, but sometimes a complicated problem requires a more complex approach. Let’s dig in.
First, get in line with the rest of the passengers on your flight and prepare to wait
We do not advise leaving the airport, especially if you’re determined to get to your final destination. Lately, it seems the airlines simply issue most passengers a refund, but that is cold comfort when you still need to go from Phoenix to Minneapolis for a wedding this weekend. There’s a limited number of flights – how can you snag a seat on one of them? You’re going to have to wait and plead your case.
When a few flights get canceled, the airline will generally try to get passengers on another as soon as possible. Most of the time, they’ll put you on another carrier without much fuss. However, massive cancellations make this a tricky situation. Wait your turn (we know, this is tough), and get ready to explain why you should get one of those limited available seats.
If you really need to be somewhere, you’re going to have to throw yourself on the airline’s mercy. There’s no guarantee that the airline can accommodate you, but you should always ask.
Next, get on the phone and call the airline’s customer support
While waiting in line, you should also call into the central reservation system. Sometimes you can get ahold of a supervisor or manager with the power to make things happen. It’s worth it to call into customer support. Sometimes they have visibility into solutions that they might not be considering where you are.
Third, hit up Twitter to see if the airline social media team can help
Social media is not always the best tool for getting stuff done, but brands still do pay attention to disgruntled customers. We recommend a pointed but polite tweet to prod the airline into action. Now, this may not get you on another flight but it is likely to get you compensated. Maybe a credit for future travel is in your future. Major brands usually have a social media team handling customer support issues. These folks often have the authority to issue credits and vouchers to help take the sting out of a particularly bad experience. It’s always worth a shot.
Be kind, patient and persistent with airline staff
Kindly and firmly ask for a credit for future travel, as well as hotel and meal vouchers. See what they say. Most of the time, the airline will offer these kinds of compensation before you ask. If you get the sense that the gate agents are overwhelmed and they can’t fix this problem, make sure you go into long-term compensation mode.
Politely get their names and a Customer Support contact physical address, email and phone number. Then, go home and write a letter or email with the details of the cancellation and how it impacted your plans. You’re going to want to include as much detail as possible, and explain how your inconvenience is worth some extra compensation. Maybe you had a family event that you missed, or maybe you were traveling to visit a sick friend. Spell it out and ask them to help.
In situations like this, it could be months before the airline staff gets through all of the filed grievances. It’s your responsibility to stay on top of it and make regular contact to check in on where things are at. Make sure your check-ins are documented (if over the phone), and reasonable. Always stay calm, always be polite. Always, follow up.
Right now, it’s a good idea to have a solid Plan B
If you have an event that cannot be missed, and you’re worried about the airlines’ reliability, you could always book a back-up flight. We book with another carrier, so you can cancel if your preferred flight goes off without a hitch. The airlines now have extremely flexible cancellation policies. While you likely won’t be able to get cash back on your unused backup flight, you can certainly convert that flight to a credit for future travel.
If your flight is a short one, maybe your plan B is a one-way rental car or Uber. After you travel, you could ask the airline to cover the costs for should you have to use it.
Another back-up could be hopping on a train or bus to get you to your destination, There’s usually more than one way to skin a cat after all.
This problem is a tough one to solve, and one the airlines are working hard to remedy.