What Should I Do If My Flight Is Canceled On a Holiday? Here Are 11 Tips and Tricks To Help You Deal
That damn tropical storm Arthur may mess with your travel plans this July 4th, so what should you do if your flight gets canceled on a holiday? Getting stuck in an airport sucks. Getting stuck in an airport when you're supposed to be at an awesome beach barbecue is even worse. In fact, one of the few times I've ever cried in public happened when my flight home on December 20th got canceled and the customer service phone person told me they didn't have any flights until after Christmas. Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, but that doesn't change the fact that until it did I was stressed and freaked out, and generally miserable.
It was even worse than the time I almost didn't make it back from abroad because of a flight attendant strike that shut down most of Istanbul's airport, because even navigating a language barrier is better than having your flight canceled around a holiday. The thing about holiday travel is that you have to be there by a certain day. Being late is not an option, and if your flight gets canceled, you are pretty much going to be late. The question is: by how much?
But even though this whole experience can be pretty miserable, there are still things you can do about it to make it less sucky. So if your holiday travel plans do go terribly awry, here are 11 tips from someone who has, unfortunately, been there often enough to know the ropes.
1. Most Important, Don't Panic
This motto is on the cover of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for a reason. The first step in getting anywhere is not to panic. You're going to want to panic because that's just the nature of airports, but use whatever tricks work for you to make sure that doesn't happen. Here, have some ways to handle anxiety.
2. Check If You're Already Rescheduled
Sometimes the universe is nice and the airline reschedules you automatically. Check your email and your frequent flyer account, if you have one (note: you should have one), to find out. Also, download your airline's mobile app if you haven't already — this makes the process much easier.
If you aren't rescheduled, or if your new flight won't get you to your destination in time for your holiday plans, then it's time for some wrangling. I recommend getting in that long-ass customer service line as a precaution, but while you're doing that, try rebooking a flight online or calling the airline's customer service number (though be prepared to get put on hold). If that's not getting you anywhere, try checking the company's twitter feed, or tweeting at them. They've been known to be helpful in an effort to avoid bad publicity.
And if none of that works, then chances are you're towards the front of the line by now. Still have a ways to go? Book an airport hotel, just in case.
3. Be Nice to Everyone. Yes, Everyone.
As has been previously established, having your flight canceled around a holiday is the worst, and it has a tendency to bring out the worst in people. And you know who bears the brunt of this more than anyone? The airport employees trying to book everyone new tickets. But even though you're probably very stressed and frustrated, don't take it out on the airport employees. For one thing, it's just plain rude. For another, who do you think they're going to be more interested in helping, the person snapping at them or the person who smiles and says, "Hi, how are you?" before making demands? Be nice to them even when you're frustrated, and they might just go the extra mile for you because they're so happy to deal with someone pleasant for a change.
In fact, being nice to everyone you meet, from the overworked Starbucks barista to that woman in line with the crying baby, will make your stay in the airport much more pleasant — or at least less sucky. And whether you wind up on another flight or in the airport hotel, you don't need to make this any sucky-er than it has to be.
4. 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 canceled. 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? No? Must have misheard you.
5. Plan ahead
Airlines may waive cancelation 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 (unlikely for a long weekend, I know), 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 cancelation. 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.
6. 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.
7. Download some travel apps
Download 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 cancelations. 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
8. Scope Out Your Surroundings
Hopefully you're able to get yourself on another flight, even if it's just the stand-by list, but that means you probably have to spend some time in the airport. So figure out what's around. Hopefully you're in a big terminal with lots of food options, maybe even a bookstore, but no matter how big or small the terminal is, it's important to know what your options are. If nothing else, it makes you feel like you have your feet under you.
9. Keep Entertained
If you're on another flight, that's awesome, but you probably have some time to kill until then. Games on your phone are great (now might be a great time to get addicted to those mindless phone games you've been avoiding — they do make time melt away, and they're great for endorphins). You can also call the people you wish you were supposed to be seeing right about now; it helps keep from wallowing. And if you're low on phone battery and don't have a charger in your carry-ons, you can pick up a book or magazine if there's a store in your terminal.
If you're traveling with other people, now might be a great time to revisit all those childhood games you thought you'd outgrown like I Spy, 20 Questions, Hangman, Red Hands...the list goes on. If you're alone you could try striking up a conversation with your fellow stranded citizens of the airport. Or if you don't want to deal with people, sketching, journaling, going for a walk around the terminal, or just people-watching are also good activities. I also recommend watching any young children who happen to be in your vicinity. Kids are great. (Just don't be creepy about it.)
10. If All Else Fails, Make a Music Video
When Richard Dunn found himself stranded at the airport in Las Vegas overnight he decided that instead of heading to the airport hotel, he'd use the empty airport as a chance to make a music video to Celine Dion's "All By Myself." You don't have to get quite that elaborate, but it just goes to show that you can always use a catastrophe as a chance to do something cool.
11. And Remember, Don't Panic
Spending too much time in an airport feels unnatural. Your instincts will scream at you that you need to leave, but just remind yourself that this sort of thing happens all the time (though hopefully not to you). If you keep your cool, everything will be fine.