You can’t get mad at weather because weather’s not about you.
Apply that lesson to most other aspects of life.
— Douglas Coupland
As I write today snow is falling thick and fast outside my window – again. This weather has been very challenging for air travelers this month. When a flight is cancelled during school vacation there are no empty seats to accommodate the disappointed would-be vacationers. Travelling during busy times in the winter can be worse than uphill skiing, but with a travel agent you have a better chance of making it all happen.
If you should have your flight cancelled, call me immediately. (This assumes I booked the flight for you. If I did not book the flight I cannot do anything to help.) When weather is bad – or expected to be bad – airlines often give agencies advance permission to change reservations within certain guidelines with no penalty. If you are at the airport already, certainly work with the airline staff to get rebooked as soon as possible. But if you are in a long line, I will be happy to work with you as you wait. I might be able to solve your problem well before you get to the front of the line. If you are unable to reach me, my colleagues at the agency will help you. Or you can call our emergency number outside the usual office hours. (All these numbers are printed on our itinerary/invoices.)
Here I have begun with the worst case scenario. Let’s back up to look at the precautions you can take well before travel time to improve your chances of smooth sailing.
When you check-in online for your flights (as you should), be sure to provide contact details for the airline so they can reach you if necessary. What is your cell number? Do you prefer a phone call, text, or email? Last weekend clients got a phone call saying their flight was cancelled and that they should expect an email soon with their substitute flight details. They called me immediately and I was able to rebook them on a flight much better than the airline’s selection even before they received the email. We were able to do this because they had early notice from the airline.
Be aware that once storm status is declared or a flight cancelled, the rules for tickets change. Non-refundable tickets can be refunded if the airline cannot fulfill its obligation to you in a reasonable time. This does not get you to your destination but it is comforting to know this if your trip was brief and you are unlikely to arrive before it is time to come home again. The airline still has your money and they are still setting the rules, but the rules do change in your favor.
The airline might or might not be required or able to help you with accommodations if you miss a connection because of delay. If the airline caused the delay (mechanical delay, for example) and you need to spend the night before continuing, the airline should help provide a hotel room and vouchers for meals. If your delay was caused by weather the airline is not required to do this, but many will direct you to a hotel with an attractive rate for such emergencies. But when a high-traffic airport is severely affected there might not be any hotel rooms available regardless of who might pay for them. That is when we see news reports of people camping overnight at the airports.
It is severely disappointing to miss out on a vacation. Nothing can get back your lost time, and the ensuing days at home can feel like a poor substitute for the trip you were anticipating. It can be a significant consolation to know that you can at least recoup the money you spent on a Vacation Not Taken. Buying travel insurance for a prepaid trip is the best thing you can do to be sure you do not end up with financial insult added to the cancellation injury you experience. Insurance plans vary and most do not cover every eventuality, but I have seen insurance more than pay for itself for plenty of people – including myself. I always recommend insurance for prepaid vacations. Be aware of what is covered by your policy and take advantage of the benefits offered (which go well beyond reimbursement for cancellation).
More than anything I hope that none of you ever needs any of this advice!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
20 February 2014