That Flight You Booked 6 Months Ago? Cancelled! But We Can Help
Rick Seaney July 7, 2008
"It was bound to happen (but let’s credit the Wall St. Journal for picking up on it first).
Some travelers who were smart enough to book flights way in advance to beat the never-ending fuel surcharge hikes, are now paying a penalty:
Because some of those flights have since disappeared.
Those flights went “poof” as airlines battled high fuel prices with one of their best weapons: capacity cuts. And it’s not just flights that have been cut; in some cases, carriers have dropped service to entire cities.
Meantime, your flight has been cancelled. What do you do? And what will the airlines do for you?
We asked the Department of Transportation’s Bill Mosley what happens when a flight is cancelled out from under you. He told us the following:
“If a passenger’s flight is canceled, the carrier must either provide an alternate flight or a refund. If the alternate flight involves a major change in schedule or itinerary, the passenger is entitled to a refund, even if they bought a non-refundable ticket.” — Bill Mosley, DOTHe added that if the passenger accepts the refund, the carrier is under no further obligation in terms of offering an alternate flight.
Just so you know, this policy is not new; it’s been in place since 1996, and was reiterated in a letter to all airlines just two weeks after 9/11 (when the airlines were canceling numerous flights).
BEFORE YOU BOOK: Have you heard (via legitimate news media reports) that the airline you’re thinking of flying on is considering or has plans to cut back flights? If yes, you might consider another carrier. And, if your city is not a major hub, you might consider flying out of a larger airport.
IF YOU’VE ALREADY BOOKED FLIGHTS: Now comes the bad news: you learn the flight you’ve bought tickets for months ago, no longer exists — and, none of the “substitute” flights the airline offers you fits your schedule (perhaps the new flight departs from an airport too far from you, or the new flight time will cause you to miss an appointment or event).
In such cases, you’re out of luck. Unless, you plan ahead — and can be as flexible as possible.
The following are some pre-planning tips, in case you hear the dreaded words, “You’re flight is canceled.
How to Survive a Canceled Flight
1. Make sure your airline has your contact info: Sign-up for your carrier’s email or phone contact program, so they can alert you as soon as possible that your flight is no longer available. But this is not fool-proof, so proceed to tip # 2.
2. Stay in-touch: Pay attention to media news reports (or blogs like this one); if you hear that your airline is making cuts or is in trouble, don’t wait to be called — call the airline — and ask for information. They can’t tell you anything? Call again. And again or if you are web savvy use the “flight schedule” feature of your ticketed airline and make sure your flight is still “scheduled”.
3. Be first in line with the airline: Everyone on your canceled flight will be trying to reschedule; as soon as you get word, drop everything and call the airline immediately. The first to get through will get the best available alternate flights.
4. Be first in line with your employer: Ask if you can change vacation days to accommodate a new schedule; if your vacation falls during Thanksgiving or Christmas, talk to your employer ASAP.
5. Have a back-up departure plan: Your flight is out of San Luis Obispo, California — could you drive to LAX or San Francisco if you had to?
6. Driving vs. flying: If you have the time (see tip # 5) you might want to consider driving; use that refund for gas, hotels and meals and you will likely still come out ahead."