Two major hurricanes in the United States, an earthquake in Mexico, and wildfires and ash in the Pacific Northwest — If you’ve been watching the weather recently, and who hasn’t, and have to travel, you probably have lots of questions about what to do if your flight gets cancelled. And if you’re stuck in a storm, how to get back home the quickest, safest, and easiest way.
As a media spokesperson in the past for both Travelocity and Fodor’s, I’ve had lots of experience giving tips on how to weather the storm, so to speak, for cancelled and delayed flights and how to keep ahead of the storm in the airport.
Here’s my best advice for bad weather FAQs:
What rights do you have if you flights are canceled do to bad weather?
- Officially, in the case of extreme weather, passengers have the right to get on the next available flight on their airline to their destination. That said, in the case of mass disruption, there may not be any available seats or flights for several days.
- The good news is that airlines typically waive all change fees and issue flexible travel policies ahead of a major storm to allow travelers to leave earlier to beat the weather, postpone their trip to a later date, or change to an alternate destination. If bad weather is predicted, keep an eye on your carriers web site, and as soon as they post an “alert” or an “advisory” jump on the opportunity to change your flight and get out ahead of the storm.
What should you do if your flight is canceled or there is an abnormal delay?
- First, check your flight status before you leave the house. If your flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, you can deal with it from the comfort of your home rather than in the chaos of the airport. Also check in for your flight before you leave home, you can get your boarding pass, confirm your seat, and even prepay for checked baggage before you ever hit the airport.
- If you’re at the airport, multitask: get on the line at the airport to talk to gate or ticket agent to see what your options are for rebooking, but at the same time call the 800 number of your airline to speak with a representative over the phone. Sometimes you’ll get through faster on the phone that you will in person and the reverse can be true, too. Also try to get through to your airline on their app (download this before you leave home) or website. Sometimes you’ll be able to rebook yourself, but if you have connections to make, you’ll probably need to talk to an agent.
- Meanwhile, if it looks like you’re going to get stuck for the night, and you don’t have family or friends nearby to stay with, dispatch a family member with a phone to make a reservation at a hotel close to the airport. In extreme weather situations where many planes are out of service, the airline does not have to put you up at a hotel; rooms will go to the first reservations, so be quick booking.
- Download mobile apps before you leave home for your airline, car rental company, and to book hotels (I like hoteltonight for emergencies), so you can check info and hopefully make changes on the fly.
What are some tips for traveling standby or getting out quicker?
- Try not to check bags if you’re trying to get on an earlier flight; everyone should have a carry on bag (remember, if you paid for a seat for your kids, they’re entitled to the overhead space, too). This is a great time to take advantage of pre boarding for families if you have small kids.
- Remember to never check anything you can’t live without – like medication – in baggage. If your flight is delayed or cancelled after you check your bags, it may be quite a while before you get them back in your possession. A roll-on might be gate checked, so medicine, binkies, phones, and chargers should be in a separate carry on bag you keep with you at all times.
- Know the TSA rules to help expedite you through the airport: and remember the 3-1-1 rule (no more than 3.4 oz containers in 1, 1qt bag per person).
What Should I Do If I Need to Book an Emergency Evacuation Ticket?
- Do not delay — book the first ticket you see that works. Pay for it upfront. Airlines, although they don’t advertise it well, have to refund your tickets if you cancel within 24 hours of booking, even during a storm.
- Check alternative airports near you. In the New York area, look at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, but also Islip and Westchester in New York, and Atlantic City in New Jersey. Try searching for “local airports near…” — many times a non-international airport won’t show up first in searches and you’ll be able to get a flight more easily.
Photo credit: Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash