Twenty years of traveling and it’s never happened to me. I guess, looking back, I’ve been really, really lucky. However, that streak ended on a recent trip to New Orleans Plantation Country. A three night press trip to the NOLA Plantations Country turned into a five night, six day visit. Definitely not the trip I planned, but that’s the thing with travel, you really need to be flexible AND it helps to make sure you have some extra travel dollars set aside. So, here’s what to do with a cancelled flight due to WEATHER, although some of these tips hold true if you are cancelled due to mechanical issues. However, with mechanical cancellations the airlines have more financial responsibility to passengers which is not the case with weather cancellations.
Let me say that we didn’t have a cancelled flight until we suffered through three flight delays. Two of those times they completely loaded the plane, waited until everyone was seated and buckled and then asked us to gather our belongings and depart the plane. The first time was annoying, the second time just irritated me and I’m thinking “MAKE UP YOUR MIND”. So, basically, the afternoon went like this: 40 minute flight delay, 2 hour flight delay, 2 hour flight delay and then they cancelled the flight part of the way through second delay. Through each delay I’m having to contact family at home to rearrange my pick up time. Ack.
A silver lining of our flight cancellation is that we were able to leave the airport because the bad weather was in our destination and not at our departure. Lord help me I never want to live through a cancellation where I’m stuck at the airport and this has me seriously rethinking any future winter air travel.
CANCELLED FLIGHTS AND WHAT TO DO
IMMEDIATELY CALL THE AIRLINE
The very first thing you want to do as soon as the flight is cancelled is call the airline. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT wait in line with the other 200+ passengers to rebook your flight. Call the airline reservation line and rebook through them. The agent can see that your flight is cancelled and will make arrangements to put you on the next available flight. Because we called we were able to fly home on Tuesday (TWO DAYS after our original flight time). The passengers who were at the front of the line were being booked for Wednesday and I’m sure the people at the back of the line may have been booked for Thursday. When you expect to go home on Sunday and you are now being told you won’t go home until Tuesday it can be frustrating and, honestly, a bit depressing. I don’t care how fabulous the destination, sometimes you just want to be home and two more nights is just more than you can deal with.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER TRAVEL OPTIONS?
We did look at a variety of options to get home earlier.
1. Renting a car and driving 16 hours in winter weather. Alan struck that one down pretty quick.
2. Flying to another airport and then flying into Michigan. We looked at driving to Houston, Pensecola, Dallas, Baton Rouge and then flying to Michigan. We looked at flying to anywhere in Florida, Texas, Georgia and then flying home. The lack of available flights and the cost of last minute flights was prohibitive.
3. Flying a different carrier home from New Orleans. Our cancelled flight was with Spirit. Spirit has exactly two flights a day out of New Orleans to Detroit. One is direct and one lays over in Atlanta. Other carriers have multiple flights a day making it easier to grab a last minute flight BUT those fights started at $430 for ONE WAY.
4. We did not look at train or bus simply because I’m quite sure we wouldn’t have arrived home until after our Tuesday flight would land.
WAIT? DOESN’T THE AIRLINE HAVE TO PAY FOR MY ROOM AND FOOD?
The short answer is no. When a flight is cancelled due to weather related conditions they do not have to offer any type of compensation or assistance. They are only required to rebook you on the next available flight or refund that portion of your flight. That is why you’ll want to make sure you have some extra cash set aside for emergencies when you travel.
After doing some quick mathematical calculations we determined that financially it was cheaper to stay in New Orleans for two extra nights instead of paying $430 to go home a day early.
WHAT IF FLIGHT IS CANCELLED DUE TO MECHANICAL ISSUES?
My lovely friend Julie over at A Cork, Fork and Passport let me know that if its cancelled due to mechanical we can “invoke rule 240 or Denied Boarding Compensation, which states that passengers should be compensated for their inconvenience. Most agent know passengers are not aware of rule 240 so try to pull a fast one. At the very least they should give meal vouchers and at the most, rebook you on another carrier.” So, let’s all put that one in our memory bank should we run into this issue in the future.
I HAVE MY FLIGHT REBOOKED NOW WHAT?
Next, you’ll want to jump on the phone and book a hotel for the number of nights you will be stranded. Remember, you are competing for a room with a minimum of 200+ people so you’ll want to be quick if budget is an issue for you. We were lucky enough to be stranded in NOLA where there are thousands of rooms, but smaller towns will have limited rooms so make good use of your time.
Once you are rebooked and have a hotel open that uber app and grab a ride to the hotel. Now, try to relax and embrace the chaos of being stranded in a warm climate. Yes, it is going to cost you some cash and if I would have had travel insurance they would have covered these expenses, BUT since it’s the first time in 20 years I’m pretty sure I saved money by NOT buying travel insurance for all my domestic travels. (Note, I almost always buy travel insurance for international travels)
THE UGLY TRUTH OF FLYING BUDGET & CANCELLED FLIGHTS
1. They are not affiliated with any other airlines so aren’t able to look for seats on other carriers for you.
2. They have very limited flights in/out of destinations
3. They really don’t care how long you are stranded for and they are not going to go out of their way to help you in any way shape or form.
4. DO NOT, under any circumstances, DO NOT trust anything the gate agent says. We were told that if our flight was cancelled they would keep that plane there and we would take it to Detroit early the next morning which is why Tatanisha and I didn’t grab one of the three seats there were available on the Monday flight offered to us after the first delay. The gate agent was all “If you wait you’ll get home before this Monday flight even departs” I really, really, really wanted to be home so I trusted what she said, which, in the end was all a big fat lie. The plane DOES NOT stay and depart early the next morning. Instead everyone has to rebook on already scheduled flights. Now, I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes and saying “everyone knows that’s not how it works” BUT I’ve been flying 20+ years and had not one clue about that. Let’s just say they won’t get away with that twice.
WHAT NOT TO SAY to stranded travelers
We always sympathized with people that were stranded, but I’m pretty sure we never really understood what it meant to not be able to go home. In a nutshell. It SUCKS!
Here’s the thing. No matter how swank the location may be that someone is stranded at please do not say to them “Well at least you are at (insert location here), it’s so much fun there!” First off, you have no idea what is going on at home for them. If they have children, if they are missing out on something important, if they just really want to be home because they are burned completely out on travel and can’t stomach one more night in a hotel bed and one more meal out. Secondly, understand, that while it may sound like fun and games they have a life they need to get back to and the sooner the better. A one day delay is bad, but a two day delay is pretty tough. A bit of sympathy is appreciated.
WHAT TO SAY to stranded travelers.
There is only one question and one comment that needs to be said during a time like this:
“What is your paypal address? I’m sending you money to buy a drink!”
Trust me, you’ll make friends for life because a drink is about the only thing that may slightly help. After the stress of rebooking, hotel, transport, etc, etc, etc, they are going to need it.
WHAT IS COST TO STAY 2-NIGHTS VS. FLYING HOME NEXT DAY
Important to note that I was traveling with a friend so we were able to split the cost. The total I’m sharing is my out of pocket expense. If you are a couple traveling together you would need to double these numbers.
2 nights hotel: $50 (We paid $100 for one night hotel, our 2nd night was a gift from a friend that had won a stay in NOLA and couldn’t use it so transferred the night to me).
Uber To/From Airport: $35 each way
Food (2 dinners, 1 lunch & 1 snack): $70
Walking around/sighstseeing: FREE
Working from hotel: FREE (yes, two extra nights in NOLA, but piles of work to be done so not a lot of time to play)
NEXT DAY FLIGHT HOME: $430
Now, this has not completely turned me off from flying Spirit. What is has done is made me more aware of deciding when to use Spirit. I think from now on there are going to be my warm weather carrier.