It seems like we all know someone who has been stranded in in an airport due to a cancelled flight this spring. It happened to my family as we were returning to our home in San Antonio after our spring break trip to Orlando. While I can't give advice on how to prevent a flight from being cancelled – no one can – I can give you some perspective on what to do when your flight is cancelled is severely delayed.
1. Sign up for alerts
When you book your flight, make sure you're signed up for the airlines' text/email alerts to make sure you're getting the most up-to-date info as it happens.
You can also put your flight number and date into Google's search bar to see your current flight status. This is also helpful for friends/family on the other end who will be picking you up from the airport.
2. Realize you're not alone
This isn't meant to be comforting but rather meant to alert you to the fact that others are in your shoes. Whether that's being the squeakiest wheel or being the first in line to grab a seat on the first available flight (no matter how undesirable it might be) the overarching point to remember is that your situation is happening to other people who are trying to dig out of a very bad situation, just as you are.
3. Act Fast
If your flight is cancelled, you'll want to do two things quickly – get in line to speak to an airline representative in person and and dial in to the airline's customer service number. If you're traveling solo, try to do both at once as best you can. If you're traveling in a group with more than one adult, divide and conquer. If possible, have more than one person dial in to the airline's customer service number.
When we experienced our recent 48-hour delay with Southwest out of the Orlando airport, one of us got in line while the other stayed with the kids and we both dialed the customer service number on our phones.
4. Don't travel broke
Maxing out all your credit cards and traveling with little to no money in the bank is never a good idea. If your flight is cancelled and rebooked for two or more days later, you're going to want to make sure you can cover a few extra days of lodging, meals, and transportation. Short notice bookings are more expensive and you may have to select accommodations outside your normal price range.
Make sure you have some room on a credit card or money in the bank to handle a delay comfortably. If you're stuck with no money and no line of credit, the airline that stranded you likely won't be able to (or be willing to) help you.
5. Don't travel without Power
Make sure your devices are fully charged before you leave for the airport and have plenty of charging cables and charged, backup power sources. Worst case scenario, you're going to have to use your 5G to access WiFi and that's going to chew up your battery. Holding for three, four, or eight (I wish I were exaggerating here) hours to speak to an airline agent is going to drain your phone's power so make sure you have some juice in reserve.
This is the 10 USB portal we use when traveling. You will have to find a power source to use it but it can handle all devices for an average family. Stranded or not, this is one is on our list of holy grail travel products.
6. Make hotel reservations as soon as you know you're getting stuck overnight
Being stuck in a hotel room – no matter how crappy the hotel room is – is better than being stuck in the airport.
Unless you're going to bunk on the terminal floor, you're going to want to find a bed for the night or nights. You won't be the only one trying to do this so I recommend not waiting for the airline to provide you with a room.
If you're not set up with a hotel loyalty program, I recommend taking some time to join a couple that make sense for you. I have the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy apps on my phone and can quickly scout hotel rates if I need to make (or cancel) a last minute reservation.
It also might help to grab the phone numbers of hotels you might be interested in staying in. You don't want to reserve a hotel (see also be obligated to pay for a hotel) you're not going to stay in but when you're trying to gauge whether or not you should make a reservation, it might help to know what the vacancy situation is and if you can chat with a helpful desk clerk that might hold a room for you.
We're loyal to Marriott and Hilton properties. We recommend checking those properties if you're stranded. They've got good, basic rooms, some with breakfast included, and will help you be comfortable if you're stranded.
7. Check with your credit card company
If you bought your ticket with a credit card, see if you qualify for assistance, reimbursement, or other perks. Some credit card benefits programs include coverage for trip cancellation, interruption, or baggage delays.
While it may be helpful to scout this out before your trip, this isn't something most people think of doing.
8. Get travel insurance
I recommend buying a travel insurance policy and making sure you understand what types of situations it covers versus buying trip protection through the airlines. The latter is usually offered as an add-on to your flight purchase and may not cover your expenses if you're stranded or delayed.
If you travel more than twice a year, compare the costs of having an enduring policy versus policies that cover specific trips. I have Allianz, which is a respected travel insurance brand.
9. Be courteous and educated when dealing with airline personnel
The airline agent you speak with is probably in a position to help you. Whether or not they will is another matter.
Know what you want to happen when you approach an agent. If your flight has been cancelled, make sure you've looked up alternative arrangements, AKA which flights you want to be on or which hotel you want the airlines to put you up at or how much you want the airline to give you in meal vouchers. This in no way guarantees you'll get anything, especially in this spring's wake of massive cancellations without compensation, but try to take emotion out of the equation and figure out practically what you want from the agent prior to approach.
What's happening right now?
While cancelled flights and the situations that cause them can impact any airline, Southwest seems to be standing head and shoulders above the rest this spring when it comes to leaving passengers stranded and declining passenger satisfaction. Once well-know for their witty and responsive social media team, their Twitter feed is a firestorm of unhappy passengers stranded throughout the country without offer of hotel or meal vouchers.
Southwest Airlines has always been one of our favorite carriers and it makes me sad to see them doing so poorly.