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Do the right things when a flight cancels

A lot of lessons were learned this week, s
ome the hard way, by travelers whose pla
ns were disrupted by the blizzard. Let's hope we put what we've learned to use in the new year.

Here are some tips Priceline compiled from its air travel experts in the wake of this week's travel chaos:

#1. Now's the wrong time for face time. Don't go to the airport unless you have a confirmed reservation. There's nothing to be gained by showing up at the ticket counter and telling the agent that you had tickets on a cancelled flight. The airline knows that and is already working to get you (and all those other travelers) re-accommodated on another flight. Better to call your airline for an update.

(As a victim of a cancellation this week, I agree you should not go to the airport if you know ahead of time or try your luck on the phone, but I would have my fingers on the smartphone or computer keyboard working on the airline website.

Why? It's hard to get a customer rep on the phone during mass cancellations (see a post by my colleague Ben Mutzabaugh in the Today in the Sky blog), and this week I changed a Southwest reservation in minutes on the website and got my boarding pass -- which made me feel much safer.)

#2. Persistence pays. Maybe you were told that the next available flight isn't for two days. However, seat availability is always changing as other passengers took different flights, decided to stay in town longer, or arranged alternative transportation. Don't be a pest, but it's OK to call your airline sporadically to see if a seat on another flight may have opened up.

#3. Go ahead - use whatever clout you have. If you belong to an airline loyalty program, you should have a different customer service number that may get you faster and better customer service than if you dialed the standard customer service number.

#4. Go backward to go forward. When you talk to the airline, tell them you're willing to accept an itinerary that may make your trip longer, but routes you through airports that aren't closed and are flying larger aircraft with more seats. Example: For an Oklahoma City to New York trip, fly to Denver first.

I second that last one. I recently had a flight from LA to Washington Dulles cancelled, and I was automatically put on a nonstop THE NEXT DAY. Ouch!!!!

But by calling customer service, I got on a nonstop that was leaving in an hour to nearby Baltimore Washington International. Computers sometimes ignore nearby airports or don't check alternate routing. Also, it may sound obvious, but many of us -- including me at times -- do not check flight departure times before heading for the airport. It's a great idea to sign up for automated flight departure announcements and changes that come right to your cellphone or computer.

I'll add another one, detailed in former colleague Chris Gray's C Around the World blog. She uses her husband's experience trying to get from Florida to Washington this week to make points such as flying out early when you suspect trouble is brewing, and here's what a commenter on her blog said:

"I'd like to re-iterate, the people who you are dealing with – gate agents, phone representative s – DID NOT make the decision not to reroute your flight/create a blizzard/etc. Never. These people are too busy in the details to have made a bad call. So, give them a break. They're having a bad day too. The whole flying experience is cyclical. So stop the cycle and smile when a rep or agent is helpful. Maybe they'll pass it along." I second that suggestion.

Readers, care to share other tips for dealing with a cancellation?

Posted Dec 31 2010 11:49AM
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