5 Top Tips For Handling Flight Cancellations Like A Pro – Forbes Advisor

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If this summer seems worse than usual for flight cancellations, you’re not losing your mind. According to FlightAware, more than 120,000 flights were canceled in the first half of the year—more than in all of 2021.

July is shaping up to be just as miserable, especially in Europe. The month started with significant Air France cancellations during a strike and is ending with Lufthansa canceling hundreds of flights in a single day.

Those numbers are jarring but it’s even worse when one particular flight—yours—is canceled and you watch your travel plans fall apart. Although there’s no secret potion to reinstate your flight as scheduled, there’s plenty you can do to make things manageable. Here’s how to handle flight cancellations and make the best of a bad situation.

5 Tips On How To Handle Flight Cancellations

1. Improve Your Odds of Avoiding Cancellations

Smooth travel is never guaranteed, but choosing the right flight might add to your luck.

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, look for nonstop options. The fewer flight segments in your itinerary, the fewer chances there are for something to go wrong. When that’s not possible, choosing early flights is your next best bet. As the day goes on, minor issues create a domino effect, possibly leading to more substantial delays and cancellations.

If your flight is already booked, you might have the ability to switch to a safer option at no penalty. Many U.S. airlines allow free changes unless you purchased a Basic Economy fare.

Budget airlines have their place, but this might not be the time to test one out unless they have a strong presence at your airport. Choosing airlines with a lot of re-routing options multiplies your chances of finding a relatively convenient alternate schedule.

Additionally, all airlines typically offer temporary fee waivers when they expect operational issues, such as if a major storm is forecast. Keep an eye on your flight status and make changes if you’re flexible before your flight is canceled—you’ll have more options before available seats are booked by other travelers.

2. Advocate for Yourself

Frequent travelers who get caught off guard by delays tend to quickly find solutions for one simple reason: they seek options through multiple paths rather than waiting for a single fix to be presented.

Seek support immediately and from multiple channels. You can call the airline while simultaneously standing in line for help at the airport and checking the airline’s app, then work with whichever rebooking option comes through first.

If you’re not at the airport and call wait times are astronomical, try dialing a different number. Spanish-speaking lines, for example, may have shorter wait times and so may call centers located in other English-speaking countries such as Australia or Singapore. For some airlines, Twitter support may also be available and can speed up response times.

In all cases, a few minutes of searching for alternate flights is worth the effort. Knowing which options are available is the best way to ask for exactly what you want instead of hoping an agent offers you something you can make work. Politely suggest what you’ve found instead of waiting for them to do research on your behalf.

Also keep in mind that some airlines may delay flights a few minutes at a time, which could keep you in limbo. If missing your connecting flight is inevitable, proactively ask to be rebooked if another option is available.

3. Know Your Rights

Unfortunately, passengers have fewer rights when flying than one might hope—the contract of carriage you agreed to when purchasing flights gives airlines the advantage.

Learning the ins and outs of passenger rights can be complicated, since they depend on the type of fare you purchased, the countries you’re flying to and from and the cause of the cancellation. However, one overarching principle almost always applies: If your flight is canceled (or significantly delayed) due to reasons outside of the airline’s control, you’re not owed very much at all.

The one constant you can expect is that the airline is required to rebook you on the next available flight. Be aware that this may still involve a lengthy wait since many flights don’t have open seats to spare. Occasionally, you may be able to fly on a partner airline, but not all airlines have interline agreements. If rebooking doesn’t work for you, you can always request a full refund.

When the cause of cancellation is in the airline’s control, you may be entitled to other benefits, including meal vouchers or overnight accommodations (when applicable). If you’re flying within the U.S., there are no laws requiring compensation for your time or inconvenience, though airlines may provide a voucher or bonus miles as a measure of goodwill.

When flying on airlines based in the European Union (such as Iberia or Lufthansa), EU laws apply and passengers have additional protections. Regulation EU 261 requires these airlines to provide cash compensation of up to 600 euros when flights are canceled or significantly delayed due to reasons under the airline’s control. Non-E.U. airlines are also required to comply with these rules when departing from Europe. So a Delta flight from Frankfurt to New York would be protected.

4. Purchase Travel Insurance

While travel insurance can’t protect your flight from being canceled, it may reimburse you for unexpected costs that arise if issues come up.

Trip delay insurance might kick in after a few hours, covering reasonable expenses you incur during the delay such as meals, overnight accommodations or transportation to a last-minute hotel. Trip cancellation insurance—meaning you can’t reach your destination at all—may reimburse prepaid costs from your original, intended vacation.

As you may expect, it’s too late to buy insurance once delays have already been announced, so you’ll need to make this purchase in advance. Our guide to travel insurance for flight cancellations can help you make sense of different policy options so you can determine what type of coverage to buy in the future.

If you didn’t buy insurance, check the credit card you purchased your flight with. Several credit cards offer basic travel insurance as a built-in benefit to cardmembers. Premium travel credit cards in particular may offer this perk, but a quick reference of your card benefits guide (typically found by logging into your online account) or a call to your card issuer can confirm what you’re eligible for.

Regardless of what insurance you have, you’ll need documentation for everything in order to process your claim so collect and save receipts along the way.

5. Handling Lost or Delayed Baggage

Even when you make it to your final destination, your bags might not. This year has seen extreme baggage delays. Delta even had to send an empty plane to London to retrieve lost baggage in mid-July.

Traveling carry-on only is the best way to avoid this issue, but that isn’t always possible. If you need to check bags, doing it smartly can improve your odds of you and your bags arriving together. Checking your luggage with plenty of time in advance can help baggage handlers get your bags to the plane in time to be loaded.

If you’re particularly worried, AirTags and other tracking devices can help you track down checked bags (including gate-checked carry-ons) in case they end up separated. Don’t want to invest in tracking devices? Make sure your bag’s identification tag has up-to-date contact information where you’ll actually be reachable—if your phone number doesn’t work abroad, list an email address instead.

For bags that are substantially delayed, this is another good time to pull out your credit card benefits guide to see if you have coverage for lost or delayed luggage. Baggage delay insurance may cover the cost of essential purchases until your bag is delivered, such as a change of clothes, toiletries and more.

Lost luggage insurance reimburses the value of what you lost, assuming you can document what’s inside (pro tip: take a picture of the interior contents before you leave home). In both cases, monetary limits apply, so shop for replacements accordingly and consider leaving your valuables at home.

Delayed or lost bags may also be protected under the Montreal Convention. If you’re flying abroad, this international agreement sets out clear reimbursement policies and you aren’t required to purchase or hold separate insurance policies. Currently, reimbursements for lost luggage are capped at about $1,300 per person.

Last Resorts for Flight Cancellations

File a Complaint With the Airline

As stated previously, airlines usually aren’t obligated to do much for passengers when flights aren’t canceled, even if it was for reasons within their control. However, they may occasionally provide compensation as a gesture of goodwill, especially if you’re a loyal, frequent customer.

Filling out a form online doesn’t feel like you’re doing much, but it does ensure that your message gets sent to the right department rather than being shuffled around a generic email inbox. Keep your letter short and to the point, without letting emotion overtake things. Include your confirmation number or member number so the airline can verify delays or cancellations on their end and then be patient—you’re not the only passenger impacted by cancellations lately.

The chances of getting your flight refunded are slim to none if you accepted a replacement flight and asking for reimbursements is similarly fruitless (that’s what travel insurance is for.) You’re more likely to receive a voucher for future travel or bonus miles that you can use for future redemptions. The exact amount will likely vary depending on how long you were delayed, the ticket fare you purchased and if you hold elite status with the airline.

File a Credit Card Chargeback

A credit card chargeback is when you request a refund from your card issuer after you’ve exhausted every other possibility. Card issuers will require documentation that you’re eligible for a cash refund and that you’ve already made reasonable efforts to get a refund directly from the vendor itself (in this case, usually an airline or travel agency).

Accepting a new flight itinerary (even if it is a day or two later than originally scheduled) may make you ineligible for a credit card chargeback. In this case, the airline provided the service you purchased according to the terms and conditions you agreed to when purchasing the ticket.

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Why Are Flights Being Canceled?

There’s no single cause for this year’s flight cancellations. Instead, it’s a perfect storm of compounding factors. Airlines are stretched to their limits, scheduling as many flights as possible to meet pent-up demand from the past few years.

After laying off crew members early in the pandemic or losing them for other reasons, airlines are short-staffed and need time to rehire. Other airline staff, from gate agents to baggage handlers, also take longer to hire due to the extra security checks needed for airport personnel. Air traffic control is also short-staffed, impacting the number of flights able to be in the air at any given time.

When mechanical issues or extreme weather conditions arise, flights end up canceled instead of delayed if there’s no wiggle room to call in extra staff. Similarly, employees calling in sick—for Covid-19 or otherwise—pushes airlines to make tough operational decisions. In Europe, strikes over working conditions, understaffing and wages impacted by high inflation further compound matters.

All in all, flights have been canceled in record numbers with no solution in sight.

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Bottom Line

Flight cancellations this year have been brutal, but being proactive can help you book flights with less chance of being canceled or ensure you have insurance protections in case you later need to file a claim. Advocating for yourself can also help you get to where you want to be as quickly as possible while travel insurance can help reimburse for unexpected expenses along the way.