Flight canceled? Experts share some advice about what to do

Dec 23, 2022, 12:18 AM | Updated: 3:06 pm
A passenger checks flight departures showing cancellations at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 20...

A passenger checks flight departures showing cancellations at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

              Southwest Airlines ticket holders Cameron Bradley, center, and his wife Kamilah Bradley, second from right, with their children Malaki, 3, and Kehlani, 8 months, try to rebook a flight to Atlanta after a cancellation at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 2022, in New York. "Literally we were in line trying to check our bags and the flight got cancelled," said Cameron, hoping to reach Atlanta for Kehlani's first meeting with her grandmother. "We can't fly anywhere- the nearest time would be after Christmas." (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
            
              Southwest Airlines ticket holders Kamilah Bradley, center, and her husband Cameron Bradley, left, holding their 8-month-old daughter Kehlani, talk with a flight agent about rebooking the family's flight to Atlanta after a cancellation at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 2022, in New York. "Literally we were in line trying to check our bags and the flight got cancelled," said Cameron, hoping to reach Atlanta for Kehlani's first meeting with her grandmother, along with her brother Malaki, 3. "We can't fly anywhere- the nearest time would be after Christmas." (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
            
              Travelers sleep as fellow travelers queue up to pass through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport after a winter storm swept over the country packing snow combined with Arctic cold, which created chaos for people trying to reach their destinations before the Christmas holiday, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in Denver. Forecasters predict that warmer weather will be on tap for the week ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              A pair of travelers sleep while fellow travelers queue up below to pass through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport after a winter storm swept over the country packing snow combined with Arctic cold, which created chaos for people trying to reach their destinations before the Christmas holiday, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in Denver. Forecasters predict that warmer weather will be on tap for the week ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Travelers queue up in baggage claim to wait to pass through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport after a winter storm swept over the country packing snow combined with Arctic cold, which created chaos for people trying to reach their destinations before the Christmas holiday, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in Denver. Forecasters predict that warmer weather will be on tap for the week ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Travelers pass by hundreds of pieces of unclaimed luggage in Denver International Airport after a winter storm swept over the country packing snow combined with Arctic cold, which created chaos for people trying to reach their destinations before the Christmas holiday, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in Denver. Forecasters predict that warmer weather will be on tap for the week ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Travelers queue up to reach the check-in counters for Southwest Airlines in Denver International Airport after a winter storm swept over the country packing snow combined with Arctic cold, which created chaos for people trying to reach their destinations before the Christmas holiday, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in Denver. Forecasters predict that warmer weather will be on tap for the week ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              A passenger checks flight departures showing cancellations at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Thousands of travelers were stranded at airports or stuck on hold trying to rebook flights this week as a massive storm snarled travel in the U.S. and Canada ahead of the holidays.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 4,800 flights into or out of U.S. airports had been canceled, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware.

Wendell Davis, who plays basketball with a team in France, was scheduled to fly from Paris to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday. After multiple cancellations __ and one night at a hotel he paid for himself __ Davis was still at O’Hare in Chicago on Friday, deciding whether to rent a car and drive.

“Everyone’s going through the same problems right now,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve just got to stay positive. Anger is not going to help us at all.”

Staying calm __ and knowing your rights __ can go a long way if your flight is canceled, experts say. Here’s some of their advice for dealing with a flight cancellation:

MY FLIGHT WAS CANCELED. WHAT NEXT?

If you still want to get to your destination, most airlines will rebook you for free on the next available flight as long as it has seats, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If you want to cancel the trip, you are entitled to a full refund, even if you bought non-refundable tickets. You’re also entitled to a refund of any bag fees, seat upgrades or other extras.

Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline executive, stressed that travelers are eligible for a refund, not just vouchers for future travel. If you do take a voucher, make sure you inquire about blackout dates and other restrictions on its use.

WILL I HAVE TO PAY A CHANGE FEE IF I REBOOK MY FLIGHTS?

Major airlines __ including Delta, American, Southwest, Air Canada, Alaska, Frontier and Spirit __ are waiving change fees during the storm, which gives travelers more flexibility as they shift their plans. But Ebenhoch said travelers should read the fine print carefully. If you book a return flight outside the window that the airline sets, you may have to pay for the difference in fares, for example.

CAN I ASK TO BE BOOKED ON ANOTHER AIRLINE’S FLIGHT?

Yes. Airlines aren’t required to put you on another airline’s flight, but they can, and sometimes do, according to the DOT. Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, recommends researching alternate flights while you’re waiting to talk to an agent. Agents are typically under a lot of pressure when a flight is canceled, so giving them some options helps.

Ebenhoch also suggests looking for alternative airports that are close to your original destination.

IS THE AIRLINE REQUIRED TO GIVE ME A HOTEL ROOM, OR OTHER COMPENSATION?

A. No. Each airline has its own policies about providing for customers whose flights are canceled, according to the DOT. But many airlines do offer accommodations, so you should check with their staff.

I’M FACING A LONG WAIT TO REBOOK. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

If someone in your traveling party is at a higher level in a frequent flier program, use the number reserved for that level to call the airline, Ebenhoch said. You can also try calling an international help desk for the airline, since those agents have the ability to make changes.

HOW CAN I AVOID THIS IN THE FUTURE?

Ebenhoch said nonstop flights and morning flights are generally the most reliable if you can book them. If you’re worried about making it to the airport in time for a morning flight, he said, consider staying at a hotel connected to the airport the night before. And consider flying outside of busy dates; this year, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration is expecting big crowds on Dec. 30, for example.

Klee recommends comparing airlines’ policies on the DOT’s service dashboard: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard. He also suggests reserving multiple flights and then canceling the ones you don’t use, as long as the airline will refund your money or convert it into a credit for a future flight.

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Flight canceled? Experts share some advice about what to do