Down to Business: Dealing with flight cancellations

Andy Singer - Speaking

Utilize air travel enough and eventually you will be faced with the dreaded flight cancellation. “Your flight is cancelled” are words that strike fear into the heart of even the toughest executive.

Over the years I have seen all types of reactions to flight cancellations, the good, the bad and oh yes, the ugly. In this week’s column we provide several tips for dealing with a flight cancellations.

Stay calm: It’s best to stay calm and courteous. Early in my career I observed a fellow traveler literally scream at a ticket counter agent when a large number of flights were cancelled. It was beyond ugly and not the way to treat a gate agent or ticket counter agent. There are times where an agent may not be the most experienced, but it’s not their fault your flight was cancelled. By staying calm and courteous you are more likely to receive empathy and help from the agent. You are also able to think more clearly and determine your best strategy. Lastly, you will not look like a neanderthal in front of your fellow travelers.

Use your cell phone: Amazingly many travelers don’t utilize their cell phone to call the airlines customer service center and see what help can be offered. Just the other day I had a flight cancelled and at the service desk I saw a young man from the U.S. Coast Guard I had met earlier at the gate. He was in for a long wait. I pulled him out of the line and used my phone to call the airlines priority service desk. I explained the situation to the representative and within minutes she had him on the next flight to a town only an hour away from his base. If he had waited in the line at the service desk, he would not have made it back until the next day, as there were no other flights to the original destination that day. Since the cancellation was “weather related,” the airline would not have covered any of his expenses. If you find yourself at the end of one of these long lines, don’t hesitate to call the airline from your cell phone.

Pay it forward: As in any tough situation, people need leadership. Be the one to help your fellow travelers. Help calm down those that seem stressed out by explaining how it could always be worse. Help those less experienced travelers to get through the situation. It feels good to help others and it’s the right thing to do.

Consider alternate airports: Both the young man from the Coast Guard and I were able to make it home that day by flying to another town, nearby to our original destination. In my case it cost me $120 for a taxi to get to the airport my car was parked at. Considering I got home that day and saved the expense of staying overnight, it was a far superior option. Also ask the agent to check alternate airlines if possible.

You get more by writing: The rules for what expenses an airline will cover can sometimes seem confusing. One thing is guaranteed, you won’t get more by arguing with a gate agent. Wait until you get home and write a detailed letter to the airline outlining all of your costs, both financially and emotionally. You will find that the airline will often provide some form of compensation when you take the time to write them a letter. Often the conversation is in the form of credit toward a future flight, which is fine by me.

Yes, flight cancellations are one of the more stressful aspects of air travel, but by staying calm and using your head, you can get though the experience in relatively good shape and hopefully help a few of your fellow travelers to do so as well. Safe travels.

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