What To Do If Your Flight Is Cancelled

by Julie Alvin

Alert: Winter Storm Pax is on his way to the Northeast and it sounds like he's going to be a real pain in the ass. While being snowed in for yet another day sounds pretty miserable at this point, it sure beats being stuck at an airport — a likely fate for anyone traveling to or from the storm-effected areas this week. 3,714 flights were cancelled on Wednesday alone, with thousands more cancellations expected as the Northeast gets pummeled with up to 18 inches of snow from early Thursday morning on.

So what should you do if your flight is cancelled? Here are some savvy tips and travel hacks that will help you get on the next flight that you can barricade yourself indoors until spring.

1. Check to see if you're already rescheduled

Many airlines automatically reschedule you, so keep an eye out for a phone call or email, or log into your frequent flyer account — yes, you should have one of those, you amateur! — on the airline's website or app to see if there's been an update to your itinerary.

2. Go online

The airline's ticket counter or help desk is likely to have very long waits, and the hotline might put you on hold until your phone battery gives out, so try rebooking online if you get that groan-inducing "your expected wait time is 45 minutes" message — you can often easily rebook through the airline's website or app. CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg also suggests tweeting at your airlines' support accounts (how modern!) or buying a day pass to an airline's lounge (if you're flush) and working with the agent inside. Airlines will also be updating their Twitter and Facebook feeds with new info.

3. Know your options

Some airlines, like Delta, allow you to pick an itinerary that works for you within 24 hours (or more) on either side of your original flight when said flight has been delayed or cancelled. You may be able to do this without the help of an agent — for Delta, for example, you can click "find alternate flights" on the website or app to rebook. Hey, weren't you just saying that you wished you had one more day in Atlanta?

4. Plan ahead

Airlines may waive cancellation and change fees in the face of extreme weather. So if you hear on Tuesday that the storm is coming on Thursday, don't test your luck to see if your flight is going to get cancelled — if your schedule is flexible, call the airline and see if you can get out on Wednesday without paying extra. If only you knew this two days ago, right?

Also in the planning-ahead department — elect to carry on rather than check your bags when there's a chance of cancellation. Having already checked your bags will complicate things when you're trying to rebook, and if you have all your luggage on you then you won't have to worry about arriving at your destination without your suitcase.

5. Familiarize yourself with Rule 240

Some carriers still honor this old rule that requires them to put you on any flight (even a competitor's) if your flight is cancelled for non-weather issues — so it may not come in handy this week but is still something to have in your back pocket for future trips.

6. Call in a favor

Call the airline if you must, though in these conditions you'll likely be put on hold for-freaking-ever. If you have frequent flyer status with your airline then by all means call the super secret number for big shots like yourself...and if you're without status then call your friend who travels the most and promise to buy her her weight in cheese for telling you what that number is. Whether they'll help you when they discover that you're a fraud...well, just try your luck.

On that note, there's a lot to be said for airline loyalty. When booking your flights, it's best to choose airlines that you have a history of traveling with — you may be treated better when travel emergencies strike.

7. Book a hotel

You don't want to sleep on the floor of LaGuardia airport, do you? You don't. When flight cancellations are weather related, it's highly unlikely that you'll get a hotel or meal voucher from the airline, but sometimes the airline will connect you with a travel agent for hotel booking, which seems like a lame consolation prize but I digress. It's wise to book a room as soon as you realize you may be stranded overnight — rooms will book up quickly, and if you do end up getting on a flight out, the hotel may not charge you a cancellation fee since they'll probably be able to fill the room quickly, Greenberg says.

8. Download some travel apps

Greenberg suggests downloading some travel apps so that the airline isn't your only source of information. Flight Weather accesses the same weather data the pilots use, and Flight Stats offers live tracking of delays and cancellations. There are also lots of last-minute hotel booking apps out there. The better informed you are, the more easily you'll be able to navigate this travel nightmare.

Image: Getty Images