Bad Weather? Avoid Getting Bumped or Stuck in the Airport
Seasoned travelers know these tricks. Now you can use them, too
Air travel is already enough of a hassle, but add in bad weather and the headaches are just beginning. Whether it’s a snowstorm in your city or thunderstorms hundreds or thousands of miles away, the result can be delays or cancellations, and maybe even a bleary-eyed night as the airport. Then there’s the race to beat out the masses and get a seat on the next plane or a room at the nearest hotel. All of this can cost you stress, sleep and even money.
Is there anything you can do to reduce your chances of getting bumped or stuck at the airport? Experts and savvy travelers say yes.
First, think about weather before you book your ticket. Fly direct if you can so there aren’t any connections to worry about — especially connections in cities prone to bad weather. Never book the last flight of the day to your destination. If it’s cancelled, you’re most likely looking at an overnight stay. In fact, the Department of Transportation recommends booking one the earliest flights of the day to have the best chance of avoiding delays.
As flight day gets near, start watching the weather, not just in your departure city but along your route. If there’s something brewing in the forecast, call your airline as your travel day approaches to see if it’s considering canceling flights, suggests consumer advocate and travel expert Christopher Elliott.
"The sooner you know what your options are, the better off you're going to be," Elliott advises. "The last thing you want to do is to be at the airport and see the flights canceled up on the board," says Elliott, author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler.”
If your flight is delayed
If your travel day arrives and you find out your flight is delayed, get to the airport on time anyway. You never know when the clouds will part unexpectedly.
Once your flight is delayed but before it's canceled, travel expert Brian "The Points Guy" Kelly suggests going onto other airlines' websites to see if you can find alternative flights. It may be worth booking yourself on another flight in case the one you were originally booked on gets canceled, and the other flight still gets out, he says. Most airlines allow penalty-free cancellations of online bookings within 24 hours of when the reservation is made. (Read the terms before booking to be sure that penalty-free cancellation applies.)
Remember to cancel the booking within 24 hours if you don't end up on the flight. And of course if the delayed flight doesn’t get cancelled, your money for that flight won’t be refunded.
If your flight is cancelled
As soon as a flight is canceled, lines are going to form at the gate counters. If you haven’t already booked yourself on another flight, get in the shortest line you can find — you can go to any of the counters staffed by the airline you're flying, not just the one at the gate your flight was scheduled to leave from. While you’re standing in line, use your cellphone to call the airline’s customer service department. You might get through before you reach the front of the line. The goal is to connect with someone who can see the options (if any) and tell you what they are.
If you have airport lounge access, consider stopping in there where you might find shorter lines and more helpful customer service representatives – and more comfortable environs.
When flight cancellations start building, rooms at hotels near the airport will start disappearing. If you want to avoid overnighting at the airport, book a hotel room as soon as possible.
Like it or not, though, weather-related issues are not the airlines’ responsibility, so don’t expect them to pay for a hotel. But that doesn't mean you shouldn’t ask. If you are a high-level frequent flyer, you're likely to get a complimentary room along with vouchers for meals. "Those are things an airline doesn't have to do but will do because you're valuable," says Elliott.
While it might not be as simple for non-VIPs, airline representatives can be persuaded under certain circumstances to reach into their bag of tricks and help others, too. "Appeal to their sense of compassion," Elliott says. You are more likely to get sympathy, he noted, if you're stuck with children or have some sort of special need. But if you don't have the conversation and ask for free meals or lodging, Elliott says, you won't get anything.
Consider rescheduling your trip
Elliott points out that once a flight is canceled you have the right to a refund, even if you don't have a refundable ticket. In other words, if it makes more sense to get your money back and reschedule your trip, once your flight is canceled you can do that.