It’s after Memorial Day and that means we’re entering prime leisure travel season in the US. Kids are out of school and families are going on trips that they planned all year. Unfortunately, this is also the time of the year where weather can wreak havoc on airline travel on an almost daily basis. Living in Orlando, we’re accustomed to severe weather blowing through all the time. Here’s a picture a friend of ours took just last week looking from one side of the car and then the other.
With sudden changes to the weather being the norm for six months out of the year, we’re used to experiencing weather delays when flying. While we try to take these things in stride, we’ve watched people go through every level of grief over a 45 minute delay. Here’s our tips on what you can and should do if your flight is delayed.
Keep an eye on the weather
If you’re planning on flying, you need to know what the weather will be on the day of your travels. If there’s going to be severe weather where you’re flying from or flying to, just expect it to be a long travel day. There’s nothing you can do at this point except mentally prepare yourself for a day of delays. Knowing that you’ll be sitting for longer than planned will keep you from being aggravated when the inevitable delays are announced.
Watching the information boards at the airport or at the gate are often the last places you’ll learn about flight delays. There are several ways to get up the minute information way before the people sitting around you:
- Sign up for text alerts from the airline – When making your reservation, you’re asked for your phone number. While I’m usually hesitant to give out my cell phone number, this is one instance where I’ll provide it to the airline. Flight delays, gate changes and other information is pushed out by texts much faster than they are posted at the airport.
- Get the smartphone app for your airline (and update it regularly) – If you have your frequent flyer information updated on your phone and activate push notifications, the airline will send instant notices about flight changes.
- Follow your flight on your own. While getting alerts from the airline are nice, getting your own information is usually more efficient. I use the app FlightAware when tracking flights – it’s one of the 7 apps you really should have when traveling. Not only can you check the up to the minute status of your flight, but you can also track your incoming flight status. If your flight is still showing on time but the plane you’re supposed to leave on is running an hour late, it’s just a matter of time before your flight is delayed. Knowing doesn’t make it any better but you can more efficiently manage your time at the airport.
- For a while, I paid the service TripIt for their Pro level service. They essentially provide the same information as FlightAware but you don’t have to do any of the work, A year subscription usually costs $49 but there are 20% offers out there like the one available with this link. I don’t pay for the service as I don’t travel enough for it to make sense for me but if you do, it’s a small price to pay for a great service. Again, it’s one of those 7 apps you need to have for traveling.
So far, I’ve only shown you how to find out if your flight will be delayed and if so, hopefully to find out an idea of how long of a delay you’re looking at. Delays are inevitable even if you only fly once or twice a year. Having some sort of lounge access from a credit card (like the AMEX Platinum Card) can make these delays a little more tolerable because you’ll have a comfortable seat, a power plug, some form of food and drink and Wi-Fi access. Hopefully the delay won’t be too long and you’ll be on the way to your destination.
What If You Have A Connecting Flight?
I’ve already written about what to do if you think you’ll miss a connecting flight due to a flight delay. While we made our connecting flight in the article, we might not have. What if we ended up being stuck in the city overnight. How could we get re-booked?
Planning For And Dealing With The Worst Case Scenario
I guess the worst thing than can happen is that your flight eventually gets cancelled or you miss your connecting flight and end up stuck in some city you didn’t want to be in overnight. You still have to find a way to your destination.
- If the airline you’re flying has a lounge at the airport and you have access to that lounge (click here to start searching), here’s the time to put those lounge agents to work for you. The line at the lounge will be shorter than the customer service line in the terminal. It might be worth it just to pay for a day pass even if you don’t have lounge access just to get a “go the the front of the line” ticket and possibly get a seat on a flight that day.
- If there’s no lounge or you don’t want to pay for access, then you need to get in the very long line at the airport. You may eventually need to speak with the airport agents to get re-booked. This isn’t Plan A but it’s better off to get in the line now while you work on other options.
- Open the airline app on your phone and see if you can re-book flights there. Airline’s computer booking systems are getting smarter all the time and will often provide you with an offer to re-book on the next “available” flight. Now, what the computer thinks is the best option might not be the best for you but why not check out what it has to offer.
- Try to tweet the airline. You may be able to get re-booked on a different flight by tweeting. Even if you haven’t missed a connecting flight yet, the agents on Twitter may be able to “protect” you on a later flight. That means they’ll keep you on the flight you booked but in case you miss the flight, you’ll already have a reserved place on the next flight. I did this for a friend when he was in the middle of a horrible travel day (Note: He didn’t get on the flight home and ended up stuck in Detroit overnight but we did everything we could to try to get him home.).
- Call the airline. You can do this while on line. JohnnyJet has a list of all the airline phone numbers on his website. You can put them into your phone now (like you should) or just end up searching for this link when you’re sitting delayed at the airport. I won’t judge.
- Check if other airlines might be able to get you to your location. Some airlines might be willing to book you onto another airline’s flight. Your chance of this working will depend on your status with the airline. If you’re an United 1K flyer, you might get re-booked but if you booked a basic economy ticket on American, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for this working. It can’t hurt to ask, though.
If you’ve gotten this far down the list, it’s time to face the reality that you might be in for a long night. While the people in front of you might be hoping for the airline to provide a meal voucher or a hotel room for the night, airlines aren’t held accountable for weather related delays. Don’t believe me, check out the Department of Transportation webpage. Here’s exactly what you are entitled :
There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed. Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers. If your flight is experiencing a long delay, ask airline staff if they will pay for meals or a hotel room. While some airlines offer these amenities to passengers, others do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers.
I’d start checking websites for airport hotels with rooms available for the night. I’ve never had to use it but I’ve heard that HotelTonight is one of the better apps to find last minute hotel rooms at reduced rates. I also hope that you used a credit card with good travel insurance for flight delays, like the Citi Prestige or Chase Sapphire Reserve. At least with those, some or all of the hotel and meal costs will be covered.
The most important thing to remember is that the employees at the airport, on the phone and in the lounge do not control the weather. They can’t make planes land any faster or keep the flight crews from timing out (working over the maximum allowable hours). While you may be upset, tired, anxious and frustrated about not getting to where you were going, none of this is their fault. Their day is not going well either, as they need to re-book hundreds, if not thousands of passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible onto planes that were already mostly booked to begin with. So work with them and if you know what’s available ahead of time and help make their job easier, they might be more willing to work with you to get you to your destination. If not, then you still might end up with one of those food vouchers or a free hotel room at the Comfort Inn.
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