Spending twenty-two hours (unplanned) in a rental car, on Halloween night, driving home from what was supposed to be a quick weekend trip to the east coast isn’t my idea of a good time. My travel nightmare has inspired me to write down a few helpful tips and share what my husband and I did when our flight was suddenly canceled so you don’t find yourself stranded at the airport.
This real-life-airport-Halloween-horror-story and overall experience left me discouraged about the future of air travel and has impacted the way we will plan our trips in the future. The days of jumping on a plane and reaching your destination in record time seem to have come and gone. Sure, weather can delay or even cancel your flight, but now airline staffing shortages are starting to effect everyone’s travel plans and you need to be prepared.
What do you do when your flight is suddenly canceled, you have already gone through security, and also checked your bags? In this story, I’m sharing the five things my husband and I did to get out of a mess that a airline knowingly put us in on Halloween night. I’ve also included the warning signs that we missed leading up to our 22-hour car ride home, that if we had payed attention to, could have saved us a lot of time and stress.
5 Things to do when your flight is canceled.
1.”Stay Calm and Carry On”
This one is probably easier said than done for most people. This is difficult for me to admit, but here’s the truth… it has taken me a long time to figure out and accept that I have a choice in the way I respond to uncertainty and challenging situations. When we found out our flight was canceled, I could feel it in my core that this was going to be bad, very bad. I took a deep breathe and made the decision right then and there not to get upset and to conserve my energy for making a plan to get out of the airport. Call it a divine intervention, or maybe it’s growing older and wiser, I knew that staying calm was really important in this situation.
2. Go to Customer Service
If you find the very long line with angry people standing in it, then you have arrived at the right place. It will be tempting to commiserate with fellow passengers in line, but this is no time to be making new friends. It’s time to get your cell phone out and take action while enduring the line to what feels like the gates of hell.
3. Get Your Cell Phone Ready
Once you are in line, put your headphones on, open your airline app, and immediately see if you can rebook your flight to the next available flight out. If their are no available flights, call the airline customer service number and get in line (virtually that is). Often the wait times are very long, so the automated system should ask you if you want to be called back instead of staying on hold. Select that option and hang up.
4. Book Your Rental Car and or a Hotel
Evaluate your situation and how quickly you need to be home. In our situation, it was Sunday afternoon and we both needed to be back at work on Monday, or as soon as possible. The next available flight out for us was not until Tuesday night, so we knew that driving home was our best option. My advice is spend your time in line running through each scenario in your head and start strategizing. Decide if you are able to drive home or if it’s best to get a hotel and stay over. If you have a travel companion with you, I would recommend you do this step at the same time as Step 3 of rebooking your flight. The quicker you and your partner can divide and conquer on these tasks, the better off you will be in the end.
5. What to say to Customer Service
If you are able to book another flight, no need to stay in the Customer Service line, you can go about your travel as rescheduled. If you were unable to reschedule your flight, stay in line and when it’s your turn ask for Customer Service assistance in rebooking your flight. If they are unable to rebook at a time that is convenient for you and you have decided to leave the terminal, ask Customer Service to put in a request to pull your bags.
In my recent experiences dealing with Customer Service, here’s what not to do when dealing with Customer Service:
- Don’t be rude. Think your day is bad, image hundreds of angry passengers yelling in your face for hours. Be calm, kind, and courteous. (This is also a good life lesson. Just be nice, its not that hard.)
- Don’t ask for vouchers or refunds, hotel stays, rental cars. It’s not happening at the customer service desk in the airport, airlines have figured out that they can blame the weather for failure to secure your flight. Instead we Tweeted… yes I that’s right, we reached out on social media to express our frustrations and were able to get to a refund quicker on our flight. Twitter is a good place to interact directly with corporate brands.
Warning Signs that flights are being canceled and yours could be next…
- If you walk past the car rental counters and the lines are long.
- If your gate agent is crying and resting his/her face in their hands on a computer key board. (I wish I was making this point up, but this actually happened to us.)
- If you pass customer service and the line stretches past three or more gates.
Do you have airport travel tips for navigating a canceled flight or a story you want to share? Leave me a comment!