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Expert offers 5 tips to deal with flight delays, cancellations

As the peak travel season approaches, people should start ironing out plans now.

ATLANTA — Frustrations were flying over the weekend at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after hundreds of Jet Blue flights were canceled or delayed. The world's busiest airport said to help address travel disruptions, it's adjusting its summer schedule.

Travel expert Christie Hudson with Expedia said these nightmares won't go away anytime soon but offered tips on how to make the situation less stressful for travelers.

Read the fine print

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Travelers should read up on their airline's policies and know what they could be entitled to if a flight is canceled or delayed, Hudson advised – emphasizing policies could vary by ticket.

"So generally speaking, airlines have to refund you if they're the ones canceling your flight and they can't accommodate you in a kind of reasonable amount of time," she said. 

However, Hudson said the phrase "reasonable amount of time" can vary. 

"For some, it might mean they need to get you on another flight within two to six hours," she said. "But for others, they may have up to 24 hours before they really need to kind of refund you."

She added that flight insurance could be really useful but only covers specific scenarios, and advises to read the fine print for those plans too.

"It's only going to cover things if someone falls really ill, for example, and is hospitalized. So they're kind of extreme situations," she said. 

In the wake of COVID and pandemic-related restrictions, she said to look for insurance plans under the "cancel for any reason" directive for the most peace of mind.

Know your 'Fly Rights'

When faced with a delay or cancellation, airlines will do their best to get customers on the next available flight, but that can come with some hassle, Hudson said. That's why she suggests becoming familiar with the Passenger Bill of Rights or "Fly Rights."

"The U.S. Department of Transportation enforces this right for passengers to get refunded if the airline cancels their flight and doesn't provide them with another reasonable alternate," she said.

Hudson said it will take a little bit of research to figure out what a traveler is entitled to, but the research could come in handy when faced with a stressful cancellation. 

"Figure out what rights you have and that'll help you make your decision in terms of whether you wait it out or you try and rebook yourself," she said.

Talk to agents at the airport

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 16, 2021, file photo, a Southwest Airlines ticketing agent helps a traveller at the check-in counter at Denver International Airport in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Amid flight disruptions travelers quickly call their airline or their travel organizer – and Hudson said this might not be the best course of action.

"The best thing you can do is try and talk to agents at the airport," she said.

Hudson said she understands people's rush to fix their flight issues, but it actually contributes to long customer wait times. 

"My advice for travelers, if you're already at the airport and you're dealing with something like this, your best bet (is) really to work with the gate agents to get you accommodated on the next possible flight," she said.

Show up for your flight 

Credit: WTHR
Travelers wait at the gate at Indianapolis International Airport on April 3, 2022 after Southwest Airlines canceled flights to Florida due to weather.

Hudson said the worst thing travelers could do is not show up for their flight, even in the wake of a delay or cancellation.

"The worse thing you can do is no show for your flight, which means you're not there to check-in when you're actually supposed to be boarding your flight," she said.

Some travelers may get impatient and decide to go home, book a different flight, or rent a car and start driving, which is understandable considering the circumstances. However, the choice could have rippling effects.

"If you no show, you basically forfeit the value of your flight and it becomes really difficult then to pursue a refund at a later date," she said.

Be careful what you book

delayed flight

Summer is one of the peak travel seasons, and Hudson is advising travelers to be wary of what sort of flight they book.

Apart from planning for delays and arriving at the airport early, she said travelers should also consider the time of their flight.

"Also when you're booking, maybe avoid lots of layovers and select nonstop flights," she said. "There's just less of a chance that you're going to experience disruption if you're going nonstop to your destination."

Hudson also recommends avoiding booking the last flight of the day. 

"So if your flight gets canceled, you don't have another option until the next morning," she said. "So maybe shoot for a flight that leaves earlier in the  day so that there's a couple of backup options if something happens."


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