(CNN) – It’s been a tough job for some air travelers here in the Christmas rush.
And that’s just Tuesday. Citing the increase in Omicron variant cases, airlines have been canceling and delaying thousands of flights since Thursday 23 December.
What if you are one of the unfortunate passengers? Here are some tips to help travelers navigate the system when flights are delayed or canceled:
Avoid getting stuck at the airport
No matter how bad it is to know that your flight has been delayed for a long time, or worse, canceled, it is best to do it from the comfort of your home or from a hotel room and from make new arrangements there.
You can also put your airline and flight number directly in the Google search bar to restore your status this way. This is also useful for friends or family who are waiting to pick you up.
If you are already at the airport
A flight information display system shows departure times at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on Monday, December 27th.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
Delays and cancellations sometimes occur after arriving at the airport. Given the bad news, what should you do?
Keyes said go to the airline agents’ counter as quickly as possible and get ready to do multiple tasks while in line.
Fast is a key word here. “It will make a difference who comes first. It’s the first to arrive, the first service. Standing close to the counter can pay off,” Keyes said.
Then call your carrier while you are waiting. Depending on your online location, it may be quicker to contact a call center. “Whatever happens first, great,” he said.
Calls to U.S. national numbers can take a very long time. Keyes suggested you try an international call center for your carrier.
“Most travelers based in the United States don’t plan to call the Canadian Delta Helpline. You may need to contact an agent much faster. They can all handle your reservations the same way.”
Attitude and research are important
Passengers are waiting in line to check in for their flights at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on Monday, December 27th.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
Whether you’re dealing with an agent in person or over the phone, the way you approach things can make a big difference. That starts with attitude.
“Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” Keyes said. “Look at this from the perspective of airline agents. They’ve been dealing with angry customers since the pandemic started. The agent is the one who has the most capacity to help you.
“Asking kindly and sympathetically is much more likely to get you what you want than being an idiot.”
He had another piece of advice when it came to talking to an agent about making new arrangements: “Come prepared to offer your own options now. Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.”
Your agent can speed things up if you’ve already looked for new routes and possible suggestions while you’re waiting. Be prepared to explain what you want.
If you have booked through Expedia or another third-party website, you will need to manage them when there is a cancellation.
If the price is the same, Keyes suggested booking directly with the airline. In case something goes wrong, “it’s much more complicated with multiple policy sets” when you booked through a third party.
The group also supports Keyes’ advice to be kind and polite to agents, but also says consumers need to be persistent in trying to resolve the situation satisfactorily.
Trapped at night
A woman and a child are waiting for their flight with another passenger at Miami International Airport on Monday, December 27th.
Rebecca Blackwell / AP
What if you can’t fly until the next day and you’re not in your hometown?
“Ask the airline to stay in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They could do it; maybe not. It’s not required by law,” Keyes said.
They are less likely to do so if it is related to the weather, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical problem with the plane or personnel problems.
Do what you do, at least ask, Keyes said. Not only will you be offered a voucher for hotels and even land transportation and meals.
You should also look for your credit card information. Keyes said your card could have passenger protections, including free hotel rooms if you’re stuck and maybe even cover food and taxi to the hotel. Find out what you need to do to receive your refund.
If your flight is delayed instead of canceled altogether, you may want to cancel if you are waiting at the airport. Depending on your personal circumstances, staying there for five or six hours may be easier than going to and from a hotel. Also, Keyes said, check for a hotel at the airport.
Cancel trip and fly later
“If you’re planning to fly next week and you’re worried about Omicron, the airlines are offering free changes to your flight,” Keyes said. “If you want to change your travel dates, you can change without penalty.”
He also pointed out that if the new travel dates are cheaper, you can get a travel credit. (On the other hand, you will pay more if the flight is more expensive.)
“If you change a holiday flight in February, you’re less likely to find yourself in this Omicron situation. You can save yourself a couple of hundred dollars.”
Refund rights for your flight
This is the policy regardless of the reason why the airlines cancel or delay the flight.
However, what a “significant delay” remains open to interpretation.
According to the DOT website, “it has not specifically defined what constitutes a ‘significant delay’. Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors, such as the length of the delay, the length of the flight and your particular circumstances. determines whether you are entitled to a refund after a significant delay in each case.
CNN’s Chris Liakos and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.
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