Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.
— Mark Twain
I have written about this topic here before, and should have done it again before our recent Historic Storm. Only one of “my” families was caught in the weather disruption this week, but all of us are susceptible to weather troubles whenever we travel. Some topics bear repeating.
Things are a bit better now than they were years ago for travelers whose flights are cancelled. Airlines are making greater efforts to notify passengers immediately that plans have changed. Airlines are also taking initiative to rebook travelers who have been cancelled. Your notice of cancellation might well include the airline’s substitute plan already in place. (You were scheduled to leave at 10:30. Now it’s 2:00.) But the airline’s re-work might not be the best available.
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 have no way of helping.) When weather is 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 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.)
What can you do before your trip begins to make re-accommodation easier if things start to deteriorate?
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 winter 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.
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. The airline still has your money and they are still setting the rules, but the rules do change in your favor so you have options.
The airline might or might not be required or able to help you with accommodations if you miss a connection. If the airline caused your delay (mechanical delay, for example) and you need to overnight at an intermediate airport, 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.
It is severely disappointing to miss out on a vacation. Nothing can get back your lost time. The ensuing days at home or in a connecting city can feel like a poor substitute for the trip you were anticipating. 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 emotional injury of cancellation. 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 all the benefits offered (which go well beyond reimbursement for cancellation).
If I repeat this advice annually will it ensure that none of you will experience travel upset? I wish I could make it so. Failing that, we can hope that you are able to meet surprises with good humor and confidence that you will get where you want to go with a minimum of fuss.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
29 January 2015