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What to do when your Flight is Canceled

So you’re on your way to the airport, and your cell phone rings from an unknown 1-800 number: it’s an automated voice from the airline telling you your flight has been cancelled, and you need to speak with a representative at the airport. Wasn’t everything was going great today until this had to happen? You’ve printed out your boarding passes, even checked your flights online before you left. What do you do now? Or, the better question, how could you better prevent it?

First, you should try to relax a little. Many times when flights are cancelled, passengers become automatically booked onto the next available channel to their destination without even having to speak with anyone. It’s important to consider, however, that there are so many variables that enter into the equations of air travel. The time of day you chose to travel, what cities you are traveling to and from (and through), what airline you are flying, current weather, what day of the week, and so on, all have an effect on whether you will reach your final destination today or not.

Time of Day:
Airlines offer discounted fares on flights in the very early morning hours, and the later evening flights. Many of us do not prefer to wake ourselves at four o’clock in the morning to catch a flight. That doesn’t make us bad people! Yet, for some reason, it is your early morning or evening flight that got the axe. What gives?

The good news for a morning flier is that, depending on the airline, there will almost always be another option for you to travel to your destination. Many airlines have several hub cities or routes they can switch you to, and in many cases, you won’t arrive much later than your originally scheduled time. That same news is bad for an evening traveler, when those different options become more and more limited as the evening wears on. When given the choice, always opt for a morning flight, and you’ll have a much better chance of being redirected through another hub city, and reaching your destination on the day you intended.

What cities you are traveling to/from/through:
Airlines organize their flight schedules according to the size of a city’s market, and how many passengers they can expect from a given city to put through their “system”. Many smaller market cities will offer less flights and smaller aircraft to handle them, which limits the amount of seats. Contrarily, in larger markets, you find more frequent flights serviced by larger aircraft. In general, that smaller market “feeder” aircraft will bring those passengers to a larger hub city, where the passenger will connect to one of many other flights leading into other markets, large and small.

Examples of large market cities for major airlines include New York City (LGA/JFK/EWR), Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), and those kinds of cities. Small markets examples would include Dayton, OH(DAY), Burbank, CA (BUR), Providence, RI (PVD), and West Palm Beach (PBI).

Why is this important? Well, when travling from a small market city to another small market city, you have a better chance of being stranded in a flight cancellation situation. There are less flights, and less seats, making less options for completing your travel. When booking your reservations, resist the temptation of flying through smaller market airports. If you need to be in Dayton, chose Cincinnati (CVG) airport, in Burbank, chose Los Angeles International (LAX), in Providence, chose Boston-Logan (BOS), in West Palm Beach, chose Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) or Miami (MIA). These are just examples, but when given the choice, try to opt for a larger market city for less chance of a crippling cancellation.

Day of the week:
Take a moment when booking your reservations to see how many different options you are offered on your airline prior to booking. Is there one, two, three or more flights offered on a given trip? The more the better, and you won’t have to be an expert on airline schedules because the information is right in front of you. Airlines change their schedules all the time, and may offer more flights during the week than on the weekends. Check to see that you’re not on the only flight option going that day!

When following these guidelines, you will minimize your chances of having your flight cancelled. Of course, there is no way to guarantee it will never happen, and until we can all afford to fly around in private jets, this will remain true. Unfortunately, with weather scenarios, there is often little the airlines will do for you in the event of a cancellation. If there is a snowstorm where you are going, no amount of argument will get you there any faster. The best thing you can do is figure out what options that airline has to get you where you want to go, and find out what your chances are of getting on one of those flights.

Lastly, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you are stranded until tomorrow, insist that the airline helps you with some of your “inconvenience.” Most airlines have negotiated hotel and transportation rates, and often times will even provide you compensation for your troubles. Take a deep breath, find some good chinese food, and relax until tomorrow. There’s nothing else you can do.