Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know about the giant Frankenstorm called Hurricane Sandy that pummeled the East Coast all the way from the Carolinas to Maine. Now that the worst of the storm is over and people are going about their business, folks are stranded in various cities and airports due to flight cancellations. I’ve rounded up some of the best tips I’ve seen for navigating a frustrating and complicated rebooking nightmare.
Immediately check your airline’s rebooking and cancellation policies. Some airlines, like American, are allowing passengers with flights October 28-31 to change their ticket one time for free, regardless of the difference in fare, so long as they complete their travel by November 4. Others are waiving change fees for rebooking and/or refunding cancelled flights, regardless of whether the ticket was nonrefundable. Odds are that your airline is doing something to help stranded passengers have an easier time getting to a destination, so don’t just assume you are screwed out of money.
Pick up the phone. If you are already at the airport and your flight has been cancelled, feel free to head to the ticket counter and wait in the long lines, but if you can, get your airline on the phone while you wait. You may get faster service that way. And on that note…
Check your airline’s website for an international hotline. Most U.S. airlines have toll free international calling centers, but most stranded travelers are calling the U.S. hotline, which can mean a lengthy wait time. Most travelers won’t think to call the international line, so you may get lucky and get a representative on the phone fairly quickly.
Utilize social media. A lot of airlines are quite active on Twitter, and you can get information faster simply by sending a tweet or following their feed. In recent years, airlines have even been using Twitter as a tool to help re-book passengers, often far faster than can be done over the phone. At the very least, the person monitoring the airline’s Twitter account will sometimes take your flight information for the airline to call you later, potentially saving you hours on hold. Two of the best: @JetBlue and @DeltaAssist.
Use or borrow elite status. Having frequent flyer elite status takes you to the front of the line when calling an airline. If you don’t have elite status, consider reaching out to a colleague or friend who does to make the call for you.
You Don’t Have to Accept an Auto-Rebooked Flight. If your airline automatically puts you on another flight but it doesn’t work for you, don’t accept it. You’ll need to talk to someone at this point who can lay out all your options. There may be direct flights to or from nearby cities that work better. The airline will automatically book you from your original departure city to your original destination city, but there may be direct flights to or from nearby cities that are more desirable to you.
Set up alerts. If your flight hasn’t been cancelled yet but you are scheduled to fly within the next couple of days, set up an automatic alert to your cell phone or email so you can keep track of your flight. This way, in case there is a change or cancellation, you can know right away and be among the first to arrange other travel options if necessary.
Use that trip insurance. If you purchased it, get it out and read the fine print. There may be options available to you that you aren’t remembering.
Drink. Find the airport bar and be happy you are safe and alive.