What to do when your flight is canceled

by Sue on January 31, 2011

Earlier this month Alaska Airlines canceled our flight from Boston to Seattle after de-icing fumes filled the cabin. First we deplaned, leaving our luggage on board. Soon snacks and drinks arrived to keep us all fat & happy. I was optimistic that once the fumes had been circulated out we would re-board… but that was not to be.

When the announcement was made canceling the flight, Jay was immediately up and heading to the gate to get our luggage off the plane. He was in the first group of 10 to enter the plane (over 200 people were on board). As soon as Jay came out with our luggage we headed to the hotel. Alaska Airlines had arranged to put everyone up at the Hilton Hotel connected to the airport. If we had a cell phone we would have been calling Alaska reservations to reschedule our flight as we walked to the hotel, but we did not.

Arriving second at the Hilton we were immediately checked into a room. The reservation clerk asked for our boarding passes and we gave them to him. Up in our room, Jay was on the phone to Alaska Air. After a reasonable time on hold, an agent booked us on a flight leaving two days later – ouch!

Frustrated, but still thinking strategically, Jay decided we should have our boarding passes and went down to the hotel reception desk to retrieve them. On the trip back up in the elevator, two women from our flight were comparing notes on the flights they had been re-routed on. One was leaving the next day via Washington DC, the other had been booked on a flight three days later via LA. Long story short, another call to Alaska Air had us leaving the next day via DC. And the next day when we checked in at Delta for the commuter flight to DC they definitely wanted to see our boarding passes from the cancelled flight.

All things considered we feel Alaska Airlines handled the situation well once we were off the plane (they delayed getting us off the plane and out of the fumes). Once the flight was canceled, agents gave everyone cards to fill out asking what form of compensation they would like – miles or a coupon for another ticket for a set dollar amount. We are frequent fliers with Alaska Air and chose the miles (no one year expiration date like the coupon).

Lessons learned:

Hold onto your boarding pass

Be persistent about what you want

A recent article in the New York Times – How to Fight Back When Your Flight Is Canceledhas further suggestions:

Use Twitter for help

Increasingly airlines, including JetBlue, Southwest and Delta, are using Twitter to notify passengers of major flight cancellations and assist in rebooking.

Read the fine print

Each carrier spells out how it handles canceled flights in a “contract of carriage,” which can be found on the airline’s Web site. Print this out before you head to the airport, so when issues arise you will have the pertinent pages on hand for reference and even show to an airline employee who may not be familiar with the details.

Avoid Being Bumped

The last passengers to check in for a flight are often the first to be bumped when a flight is oversold. So be sure to check in before you head to the airport. Many airlines allow customers to check in online, as much as 24 hours in advance.

Report Lost Bags Immediately

If your bags don’t make it off the plane, report the lost luggage to airline personnel before you leave the airport.

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