After working within the airline systems on innumerable countries, with flight cancellations, re-booking and so on, I observed positive and negative behavior amongst my fellow passengers. I got first hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Here are some tips for anyone looking to be prepared for the Wrath of the Travel Gods. I hope these are helpful.
1. Before you leave, get NON-800 number contact information from your airline carrier. The 800 numbers they hand out for US-based carriers do not work from mobile phones, and finding a landline in an airport is impossible.
2. When you check in, ask the desk agent what the procedure at that airport will be in the event of a cancellation due to weather or other Acts of the Travel Gods. Take notes – it’s different at each airport, and you want to know ahead of time to avoid the panic when the cancellation is announced.
3. When cancellation is announced, stay calm and don’t lose your temper. The ground staff for the airline are doing the very best they can, and in many cases, they are operating under strict guidelines. Don’t push them. They can’t clear the weather or cause a broken airplane to move, and they are not responsible for their airline’s policies. Start working on your own Plan B. If you’d like to see how I got around the 2010 ash cloud and got home after my flight was cancelled, click this link.
4. If you are flying economy, you’re on your own for rescheduling. In some cases there will be no ground staff at the airport who can reschedule you, and if there are, the lines will be very long. Make sure you have a fully charged mobile phone with you, and call as soon as you can. If the line is busy, keep trying until you get in. Stay patient. The agent who finally answers your call will be able to re-route you. It may not be for a day or two, but they will get you on another flight. If you are flying in business or first class, go to the desk in the lounge and ask them for rerouting possibilities.
5. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Look into flying back overseas from a different country, or to a different country. If Southern Europe is affected, try to reroute through Germany or England. If Northern Europe is affected, look into Madrid or Rome. If you’re traveling to the US, try a train to a country not affected and fly to the US from there. Don’t be afraid to fly to another city in the US if that is all that is available. Flights within the US are plentiful and there are inexpensive fares usually available online. If you’re in India, look to Singapore or Hong Kong. If there is no connecting flight available and you’re traveling to a destination on the same land mass, look into high-speed or regular train option.
6. Be aware the airline may not offer you a hotel voucher, and if not, do not argue, do not get angry. There is nothing you can do about it. Quickly get on the internet and book a hotel before the other travelers do.
7. Don’t demand an upgrade in flying class as a result of a cancellation. You won’t get it by being demanding and argumentative. In most cases, there will not be any seats in the other classes available. There are a lot more seats in the economy section than in anywhere else – you’ll have a better chance of getting out flying in the cheap seats than waiting for an upgrade.
8. Try to calm down the passengers around you. The airline ground staff will bless you for it. You might even get an unexpected reward.
9. Finally, smile at the agent or ground staff and tell them how well you think they are holding up and handling this situation. They have an impossible job, with people yelling at them all the time, trying to make stranded, stressed-out people happy. In most cases, they get no thanks at all before moving on to the next upset passenger. Hearing a nice word from you will help lighten their burden. The grateful smile you get back will be the nicest thing that happens to you all day.
The above was learned first hand last year when my flight home was cancelled due to ash cloud issues. Yes, I did try to calm down the other passengers in my group. Yes, I was nice and patient and smiled. I told them I thought they were doing an excellent job in these trying circumstances, and in one case told a fellow passenger to get off the lounge staff’s back.
My reward – when I got my ticket re-booked on another airline, it was for First Class.
Remember the Golden Rule. It works.