flight cancelled? Experts give tips on what to do

Thousands of travelers were stuck at airports or on hold at airports this week trying to rebook flights as a massive storm disrupted travel in the US and Canada ahead of the holidays.

More than 4,800 flights to or from U.S. airports have been canceled as of Friday afternoon, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

Wendell Davis, who plays basketball with a team in France, was scheduled to fly from Paris to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday. After several cancellations, Davis was still at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Friday. He considered going to Columbus, but decided against it. Instead, he booked a hotel room while waiting for a scheduled flight to Cincinnati on Christmas Day.

“Everyone’s having the same problems right now,” he says, laughing. “We just have to stay positive. Anger will not help us at all.”

Staying calm __ and knowing your rights __ can go a long way if your flight is canceled, experts say. Here is some of their advice for dealing with a flight cancellation:

MY FLIGHT HAS BEEN CANCELLED. WHAT NOW?

If you still want to get to your destination, most airlines will rebook you free of charge on the next available flight, as long as it has seats, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If you decide to cancel the trip, you are entitled to a full refund even if you bought non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund of baggage fees, seat upgrades or other extras.

Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline chief executive, stressed that travelers are entitled to a refund, not just vouchers for future trips. If you take a coupon, be sure to inquire about blackout dates and other restrictions on use.

DO I HAVE TO PAY A CHANGE FEE IF I CHANGE MY FLIGHT?

Major airlines __ including Delta, American, Southwest, Air Canada, Alaska, Frontier and Spirit __ are waiving change fees during the storm, giving travelers more flexibility if they change plans. But Ebenhoch said travelers should read the fine print carefully. For example, if you book a return flight outside of the time slot set by the airline, you will have to pay the fare difference.

CAN I REQUEST TO BE BOOKED ON ANOTHER AIRLINE’S FLIGHT?

Yes. Airlines are not required to put you on another airline’s flight, but according to the DOT they can and sometimes do. CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee recommends researching alternative flights while you wait to speak to an agent. Agents are usually under a lot of pressure when a flight is cancelled, so giving them some options helps.

Ebenhoch also suggests looking for alternative airports that are close to your original destination.

IS THE AIRLINE OBLIGATED TO GIVE ME A HOTEL ROOM OR OTHER COMPENSATION?

no Each airline has its own policies for accommodating customers whose flights are canceled, according to the DOT. But many airlines offer accommodation, so you should check with their staff.

I HAVE LONG WAITS TO BOOK. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

If someone in your travel party is in a higher tier frequent flyer program, use the number reserved for that tier to call the airline, Ebenhoch said. You can also try calling an international airline helpdesk as they can make changes.

HOW CAN I AVOID THIS IN THE FUTURE?

Ebenhoch said non-stop flights and morning flights are generally the most reliable when they can be booked. If you’re worried about getting to the airport in time for a morning flight, consider staying at a hotel connected to the airport the night before. And consider flying outside of busy dates; This year, for example, the US Transportation Security Administration is expecting a large crowd on December 30th.

Klee recommends comparing airline policies on the DOT’s service dashboard: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard. He also suggests reserving multiple flights and then canceling the unused ones, as long as the airline refunds your money or turns it into a credit towards a future flight.

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