Nobody likes to feel trapped in a station with nowhere to go. But there are ways to avoid the travel headache — and ways to compensate if you can’t. Here is a list of tips for your next trip, with advice from a seasoned local flight attendant and gate agent.
The next time you book a flight, download the airline’s mobile app—it’s the best way to stay current with the most reliable information about cancellations and delays, according to Marisa, who has been a flight attendant for 23 years. She currently works for Delta, and requested that her last name not be used.
“I always recommend getting the app for the airline you fly with,” Marisa said. “And set it up for notifications. In situations where mass cancellations happen, you’ll get help faster — and you don’t have to stand in line or call.”
She also recommends downloading an app that tracks total departures for each airline. Marisa uses the Flight Board mobile app, while FlightAware is another popular resource.
It will give you a better idea of what’s going on [outside] Marisa said.
If possible, try to book directly with the airline and not through a third party, which can make changing your itinerary more difficult in the event of cancellations or delays.
“If the flight is delayed, you don’t have any [recourse] “If you go through a third party, that makes a huge difference,” said Cindy Murphy Brown, a gate agent who works for Alaska Airlines.
Choose an early flight
According to the US Department of Transportation’s website, an earlier departure in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, due to the cascading effects of delays throughout the day.
“Morning flights are less affected by bad weather,” Marisa said, adding that as we approach summer, thunderstorms will be more frequent, which could affect flights across the country. This led Marisa to her next piece of advice…
Check the weather where you are going
Just because it’s sunny in Boston doesn’t mean it’s sunny everywhere. Marisa recommends checking the weather at your destination, as well as in any connected cities.
Know your rights
Believe it or not, travelers have a few.
If you are stuck on a plane that has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours, for example, airlines in the United States may be violating the law. Airlines that have ground planes on the tarmac must notify passengers and have the option to disembark from the plane within the first 30 minutes they learn of the delay, according to the Department of Transportation. The rule has been in effect in the past few years, and violations can amount to hefty airline fines per passenger. The rule also requires airlines to provide adequate food and water, make sure latrines are running and, if necessary, provide medical care to passengers during long delays on the tarmac, according to the Department of Transportation’s website.
“[Airlines] You’re more likely to cancel flights these days to try and get away from that,” Marisa said of the new runway rules.
If a flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you for free on their next flight to your destination as long as the flight has seats available, the Department of Transportation’s website said. If a passenger decides to cancel their flight as a result of a flight cancellation, customers are entitled to a refund of unused carriage – even for non-refundable tickets.
“You are also entitled to a refund of any bag fees you have paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as the seat assignment,” the website said. “If their airline offers a voucher for future travel, ask the airline about any restrictions that may apply, such as blackout and expiration dates.”
Passengers are also entitled to a refund if the flight is significantly delayed and they decide not to travel. The airline determines what constitutes a significant delay, and travelers should check the airline’s website for their contract of carriage for specific information.
If a flight is delayed or canceled and the passenger still decides to fly, US airlines are not legally obligated to compensate ticket holders. Each airline has its own policies, and there are no federal requirements. But you still have to ask.
“If your flight has a long delay, ask airline employees if they will pay for meals or a hotel room. While some airlines provide these facilities to passengers, others do not,” said the Department of Transportation.
How about getting on another airline? If a flight is canceled, an airline can place a passenger on another airline’s flight, but they are not required to. But again, you should inquire.
The Department of Transportation advises: “It doesn’t hurt to politely ask your airline if they will transfer your ticket to another airline that has a flight with available seats.” Passengers can also ask if the airline will transfer your ticket to that carrier, but again, they are not required to.
Many situations are handled on a case by case basis.
Be patient and respectful
Marisa said a lot of power lies in the hands of the portal agents, so be respectful.
“It’s important to be patient when these things happen,” said Marisa. “Gate agents are the ones who do everything, and they can be very confused. Ask them how their day is going. Maybe get them some chocolate. It’s the gate agent who will give you that seat.”
Moreover, understaffing is often the root cause of airport frustrations.
“We’ve been understaffed all the time,” Murphy Brown said. “People have to do the complication and the overtime – because there’s no one to work… I know all airlines suffer from the same thing.”
Pack some essentials in your handbag
If travelers are checking the bag, Marisa said, pack a few necessities in your hand luggage.
“I check my bags when I travel, but I advise you to keep at least a change of underwear and a toothbrush, and if you have children, change their clothes for sure,” said Marisa.
It also advises travelers who check bags to comment on the tags given to them, allowing customers to keep track of the exact location of their bag should they be separated from it.