Last updated: 11:03 AM ET, Thu January 28 2016

How to Not Be a Jerk When Your Flight is Delayed or Canceled

Airlines & Airports | Kelly & Ryan McDaniel | January 28, 2016

How to Not Be a Jerk When Your Flight is Delayed or Canceled

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

What should have been a three-hour return flight home over the holidays turned into a five-day debacle full of delays, two canceled flights, six trips through security, hundreds of dollars spent and four days of work lost — all because of one snowstorm.

Yet through this journey, we were able to stay calm, positive and polite. Should you ever find yourself stranded on a trip, here are some tips to fend off minor irritation and major disaster.

Know Your Rights and Options

There are slight variations in rules and regulations from airline to airline in the United States, but all give you the right to reroute or even receive a full refund if your flight is canceled or substantially delayed.

When our first flight was canceled after nearly five hours of delays, we were told to contact the airline and have them rebook us on the next available flight. Unfortunately, the next open flight wasn’t for two days and because weather is an “act of God,” the airline did not offer any vouchers for a free hotel stay.

Surrounded by hundreds of other stranded travelers, we knew our hotel options would be getting slimmer by the minute. To our rescue was HotelTonight, an app that offers rooms at last-minute rates. This was the second time that app had come in handy and saved us from sleeping in a much less agreeable place for the night.

READ MORE: How Much of Your Life Is Spent on Travel Delays?

Later that week when a second flight was canceled, it was due to personnel problems, so we were given a free night at a nearby hotel (including free shuttle service to and from the airport). We did ask for meal vouchers, but since the hotel offered continental breakfast, we left empty-handed.

Though we were booked on the next available flight leaving two days later, the airline could only give us one hotel night at a time, and requested that we come back to the airport the next day to try to fly standby. So we went through security again and sat at the gate for hours only to be told that the flight only had room for one more passenger, but not two. Because we wanted to travel together, we chose not to separate.

We ended up staying with a friend that night and our original rebooked flight got us home the next day. Standby is worth trying though, especially if you are flying solo. You never know who might not show up or who may take advantage of the airline’s voluntary bump offer. If your flight is canceled, make sure to ask about meal vouchers, hotel accommodations or to be booked on another airline’s flight instead. Our original carrier was able to get us seats on a competitor’s flight and get us home sooner.

Perhaps the easiest lesson we learned from our flights being canceled was to call the airline’s customer service number instead of standing in line waiting to rebook at the ticket counter. While sitting at our gate, we were able to connect with a representative after only a 15-minute hold as we watched a line of people the length of a city block wait for the same thing.

Don’t Lose Your Head

The stress of canceled flights, rebooking lines, long phone holds and being cooped up at the airport for who knows how long can really get to some people. We witnessed people cursing, crying and even screaming in the throes of a panic attack. Yelling and swearing will only get you dirty looks and won’t get you to your destination any faster.

Do your best not to blame airport staff and airline representatives or raise your voice when plans go awry. These people usually have nothing to do with the decision to cancel flights and are there to help you. Staying calm and patient will make the process much more pleasant for yourself and everyone around you. Remember, if you are kind to others they will generally be kind to you.

Try to Pack Carry-On Only

Worrying where our luggage could be was not something we had to deal with on this trip, thankfully. But thousands of checked bags got lost in the system due to all the cancellations and reroutes, ending up at the wrong airports, miles away from the correct destination.

Although the hassle and weight of our carry-on luggage was a bit cumbersome, knowing our things were safe with us was a huge relief. Traveling with carry-on only saves you time, money and can give you peace of mind in stressful situations.

Reach Out to Friends and Family

We were lucky enough to have friends in both cities where we were stranded, so a few of our nights were spent in the company of loved ones with warm meals, conversation and restful sleep. As soon as we suspected that our flights would be canceled, we started texting and calling those we knew in the area, making the best of our unplanned trip extension.

READ MORE: Kill It With Tech: 7 Apps To Help Wipe Out Winter Delay Doldrums

No local contacts? Even calling a friend for support or simply to vent can be a great stress reliever. They can lend an ear or offer advice on what to do next. We had each other to lean on which made our whole fiasco much more bearable, but if you are traveling alone, don’t be afraid to make a few calls to lighten your mood.

Things go wrong with even the best-laid plans. When your simple trip turns into a series of cancellations and re-planning, just remember to first keep calm. There is no use fretting about things beyond your control. After that, you can alleviate the problem by educating yourself on your options and learning about the resources available to you. Finally, friends and family can be a wonderful source of support or even a warm bed.

We hope your travels never turn into such a struggle as ours did, but now you will be better prepared if they do.


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