Taking the Pain out of Changing Your Flight

Survival tips for weather-related flight cancellations

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2010 file photo, an American Airlines passenger checks the departure board for flight delays and cancellations at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Federal officials are expected to announce this week a plan to raise the maximum amount that airlines must pay passengers who get bumped off an oversold flight, currently at $400 or $800 depending on how long a trip is delayed. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching, File)

Changing Flights

As if Super Bowl hangovers weren’t enough, air travelers in the United States are feeling no calm after the winter storms that ravaged the Northeast and Midwest Sunday and Monday.  Air carriers announced cancellations of more than 7,500 flights through Wednesday.  You can check FlightAware.com for the latest information.

Gone are the days when a cancelled or delayed flight meant a hotel room and a hot meal.  On occasion airlines will offer such perks – particularly when delays are due to a mechanical malfunction – but passengers are racking up huge expenses.  By some estimates, this latest round of storms will cost passengers $180 million due in part to lost productivity, accommodations, and food.

If you’re traveling by air this winter, unfortunately, there is a good chance you’ll have an encounter with Mother Nature – directly or indirectly.  Luckily, thanks to what are called ‘contracts of carriage’ between you and your air carrier, you will be put on the next available flight at no expense, even if it’s on a different airline.  The problem, with weather like this the next available flight may be days away.

There are, however, some things you can do to make your travel ‘load’ a little lighter.

  • Know your carrier’s policies:   Different air carriers will issue different policies when it comes to things like reissuing a ticket. JetBlue, for example, offered ticketed passengers whose flights were cancelled between January 26, 2015 and January 28, 2015, a waiver of the reissue charge,as long as travel occurred by February 1 for some cities including New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.   Virgin America gave ‘weather challenged’ passengers until February 3 to reissue.
  • Phone cues and airport lines too long?  Tweet: If you can’t get through on the phone, you can Tweet or direct message your carrier through Twitter.   Agents will help you make changes via Twitter exchanges.  Be sure to have your flight info on hand.   I tried this and got a response within a few minutes.

  • Habla Espanol? If you can get through the message prompts in Spanish, analysts say you will experience much shorter wait times.   You will also be able to speak English when you reach a representative.
  • Work the system: Tom Parsons, travel expert and founder of travel website BestFares.com told us, “If you’re trying  to change a flight on the phone and the person you’re speaking to isn’t very ‘generous’ about things like change fees, don’t hesitate to ask to speak for a supervisor.”    “If you don’t like the answer the supervisor gives you wait a few hours and try again.  You may get a different outcome simply waiting for the next supervisor’s shift,” he adds.  Parsons also points out that airline workers have latitude and you should try a few if you’re not getting what you need.

He also says remember these workers are under a great deal of stress.  You’ll have better luck if you keep your own frustrations in check.



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