Andrew Astor did everything right when his red-eye flight was delayed until morning during the Federal Aviation Administration meltdown earlier this month, but it didn’t spare him any misery.
Ten minutes before boarding, he said gate agents announced what seemed like a minor delay.
“Oh, there’s another plane that hasn’t taken off, so we have to wait for that plane,” he recalled. “Then they said, ‘Oh, we need to fix stuff with the jet. Something’s wrong with the jet.’ … They kept pushing back like five minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes.”
In the meantime, he checked American Airlines’ app, which also reflected incremental delays. He tried calling the airline, but the line was busy. Eventually, he heard another passenger say the FAA was grounding all planes.
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“As soon as they said the FAA shut down all flights, I went straight to customer service because I know how the lines get,” Astor said.
He said a helpful customer service agent booked him on the next available flight in the morning, but he wasn’t offered anything else for the trouble, besides cookies and water.
According to American Airlines’ customer service plan, “If the delay or cancellation is caused by events beyond our control (like weather) you are responsible for your own overnight accommodations, meals and incidental expenses. American Airlines agents may be able to help you find a hotel.”
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What do travelers do wrong when their flight is canceled?
According to Danny Rivers-Mitchell, founder of Black Girls Travel Too, a global boutique tour operator that curates immersive and cultural experiences for Black women, Astor took all the right steps.
“It’s a lot, but that’s where your multitasking skills need to come through,” Rivers-Mitchell said. She advises her clients to get in line for customer service at the airport as soon as possible if they hear about a major delay or cancellation to their flight and to call the airline’s customer service line and reach out on social media and any other available platforms like through the carrier’s app while they wait.
“You would be foolish to think it’s enough to just stand in a queue at the airport for assistance,” she said. “There (are) only so many seats available for rebooking. I want my chances to be the best for getting on the next available (flight).”
Rivers-Mitchell added it’s important to know your options and be prepared to advocate for alternatives if you’re not satisfied with the itineraries the airline presents you with.
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How do I beat the crowd when flights are canceled?
“If I see that my flight is delayed significantly or keeps being pushed back, I’m already looking for different flight options if I have somewhere to be that’s time-sensitive,” Rivers-Mitchell said. “What the consumer needs to do is sometimes help the airline think about other options,” like getting your airline to rebook you with one of their partners if the schedule is better, or allow you to change your itinerary to go through other airports if possible.
She added that said, it’s crucial to treat all the airline employees who help you with respect. Not only is it the right thing to do, but they’re more likely to go above and beyond to help customers who are nice to them.
Astor saw the importance of advocating for yourself firsthand during his own cancellation experience.
“The customer support could have been a lot better, but also, they didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
Do flights get refunded if they are canceled?
If an airline cancels your flight for any reason, the Department of Transportation requires them to offer a refund to all affected passengers, even those who bought a nonrefundable ticket.
Policies around delays, however, are set by individual carriers.
Check out USA TODAY’S other coverage for a full explanation of policies by airline.
What should I do if my flight is at risk of being canceled?
► Update your contact information: Rivers-Mitchell said she always advises her clients to make sure the contact info they provide to the airline is up to date so they can receive notifications about any changes to their itineraries.
► Don’t rely on only one app: She also said she uses a third-party app to keep track of any updates to her flights.
► Have Plans B and C ready: In the event of bad weather that affects a short flight, Rivers-Mitchell said it’s a good idea to head to the car rental counter early. If you can drive instead of fly, you’ll want to lock that down before the rental cars are all gone.
► Prepare for the worst: Above all, she said, she suggests getting travel insurance for every trip, no matter how short, as well as leaving yourself some schedule padding to fly to time-sensitive events, and taking the first flight of the day to minimize your chance of getting delayed or canceled.
“Managing your expectations is extremely important. There’s a level of patience you have to have,” she said. “It’s all about preparation. It’s about risk management.”
How should I contact my airline? Which platform is the best?
No matter what the situation, Rivers-Mitchell’s multitasking advice applies. She said your best bet is to have as many touch points with the airline as you can when things start to go wrong: get in line for customer service while calling the airline and reaching out through apps and social media.
It may take time to resolve your issue and get you rebooked, but the more channels of communication you have open, the more likely you are to get your issue resolved in a way you’re happy with.
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Astor couldn’t have prepared for the FAA outage.
“I was annoyed, but it was so hard to be so annoyed because it was just like the FAA thing,” he said. “What could anyone really do?”
He did wish he brought snacks.