Thankfully, the Omicron variant of COVID appears to be milder than its predecessors. However in the U.S. alone, tens of thousands of new hospitalizations and roughly 2,000 deaths are still happening from COVID daily, and the vast majority of them are people who are not immunized (case in point, almost 80% of the COVID-19 hospital patients in Miami-Dade County are unvaccinated). So “going to work with COVID” is not a safe option for anyone who has any type of face-to-face contact as part of their job.
Over the past few weeks, airlines around the world have had unprecedented cancellations and delays. In the U.S. alone, more than 15,000 U.S. flights have been scrapped and thousands more were delayed since Christmas Eve, according to FlightAware. The reasons varied (weather and seasonal traffic did have hands in it), but a good portion of them were related to staff shortages due to active COVID infections.
Of course, regardless of the reason behind it, airline cancellations and delays are disappointing. If you have a connecting flight, you could wind up missing your connection (here are some ways to possibly avoid that). Either way, you may get to your destination hours, if not days later than anticipated.
Having to start your vacation a day or more late, or taking a few extra hours to get home can cause frustration and anxiety. But it’s worse if you have a situation where you feel you really HAVE to be on that flight. Say, because you have a cruise booked and it’s leaving that day. Or you’re attending a wedding that evening. Or you’re on your way to an important business meeting. Or a loved one is dying.
Even during non-COVID times, flights get cancelled for various reasons. In fact, nearly 2% of the scheduled 2 million flights in the U.S. in 2019 were cancelled. 2% is a small amount and initially doesn’t sound like a whole lot. But if you’re flying to Boise to see your grandfather before he dies of cancer, and he passes before you get there because you were on one of those 40,000 flights that got cancelled, well… 🙁
So what CAN you do if you need to fly somewhere and your flight plans just CANNOT change?
How about buying another ticket, on another airline, as a backup?
These are some potential options:
Southwest is the only airline in the U.S. that allows its passengers to change or even cancel tickets and get a travel credit instead. What’s more, you can change or cancel that ticket up to 10 minutes before your flight.
From Southwest’s FAQ:
Is there a time limit on changes or cancellations?
Yes. You can change or cancel your flight up until 10 minutes before your scheduled departure time. For example, if you had a flight scheduled to depart at 8 a.m., you’d have until 7:50 a.m. to make changes or cancel the flight. If for some reason you forget to change or cancel, it may result in your travel funds for that flight being forfeited.
For example, if you paid $79 for a one-way Wanna Get Away® ticket and you didn’t make the flight or cancel it, you may forfeit the $79 you paid. If you cancel before the “10 minutes before departure” mark, you will receive $79 as a reusable travel fund for future use. When you make a change extremely close-in (for example, if you were supposed to fly at 8 a.m. but then changed your flight that morning to 10 a.m.), your boarding position will change based on your new time of check-in.
Ultra Low-Cost Carriers
Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, etc. all offer fares that are significantly lower than the legacy airlines or even the low cost ones.
Of course, there may be other costs involved, such as making a reservation from home, paying for a carry on, etc. But you can usually get away with their flights being at least a little less than other airlines.
It’s not for everyone
Obviously, buying a ticket on another airline, just as a backup plan, isn’t an option that’s for everyone. It will cost you significantly more. You’ll have to be coming from and going to somewhere that the “other” airline flies (and for the ULCCs, potentially on the day you want to fly). If you cancel a ticket on a ULCC, the money is gone. And even if you choose Southwest, you’ll need to use that/those changed/cancelled ticket(s) within the year (if more than a year passes, you can always do this).
Also keep in mind that if your flight has an issue because of weather, chances are your backup flight very well may, as well (assuming that flight is going to the same airport).
But for non-weather issues (staffing, mechanical issues, etc.) when you’re talking about a matter of life and death or making sure you get to that cruise/wedding/meeting/whatever, it might just be worth it for “just in case,” to better ensure that you’ll get to where you need to be.
Feature Photo: BotMultiChillT / Wikimedia
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