My flight was cancelled, what do I do?

This is the question that, sadly, we only ask ourselves when we are standing knee-deep in luggage in the Departure concourse of an airport. If you’ve been on the wrong end of a flight cancellation, you will instantly know that feeling of utter despair when you see the words “Flight Cancelled” beaming from the Departures Board.

Let me walk you through some of the smart things you should do to help offset some of the misery from this travel hiccup.

  1. Know your entitlements
  2. Up to date contact details
  3. Frontline of a cancellation
  4. Recognise who is going to help you
  5. Getting ahead of a problem
  6. Paperwork
  7. Final thoughts

Small Print – Know your Entitlements

A really good Customer Service experience is at the heart of most businesses. And Airlines are no exceptions. They really do want their clients to have a seamless experience. Sadly, it’s one of the main industries that receive the most negative feedback from its customers.

Why?

Well, disappointments don’t run much higher when you’re at the airport, ready to embark on your much-longed for vacation, and the dreaded ‘My flight was cancelled’ scenario occurs.

It’s not just you in the eye of the storm. Every other passenger on that flight is trying to find a solution to the same problem. There isn’t a Customer Service Desk in the universe that is equipped to deal with a hundred plus disgruntled customers all at once.

What to do if my flight is cancelled

What happens when your flight gets cancelled varies from airline to airline. There’s quite a difference between a large transatlantic flight being grounded to, say, a small inter-island hopper in Hawaii not running. Every carrier has a set of guidelines listed either on its websites or attached to your e-ticket.

If you are being re-routed or offered an alternative day of departure, it’s important that you’ve read the small print. What you are entitled to by way of meal vouchers, hotel accommodation, refunds, and so forth become really crucial details if you are momentarily stranded. The Terms and Conditions attached to your ticket usually contain all of these useful details.


TIP: If you have a quiet ten minutes before you travel, do review the small print on your e-tickets so you know your rights and entitlements. It’s easier to manage your expectations if the worst does occur.


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Outbound Cancellations


Up to Date Contact Detail

Unless there’s been a monumental happening, it’s very unusual for flights to get cancelled at the last minute. Most airlines have the ability to move another plane into position to replace one that may have gone tech (aeroplane speak for ‘broken’). This generally results in a delay while some airline scheduling guru juggles their fleet of aircraft and gets you transferred at a later time.

As a rule, most cancellations are advised to passengers by text or email days or weeks prior to them getting to the airport.

Busy airport check in - my flight was cancelled

Airlines understand the value of keeping customers informed and allowing them opportunities to rebook their flights well in advance. After all, what airline wants irate travellers having a meltdown at a check-in desk. It’s just bad for business.


TIP: Be absolutely sure that you put your up to date cell number or email details into any flight bookings. In this way, the airline is able to reach you easily with any schedule changes.


The Frontline of a Cancellation

What to do when your flight gets cancelled, and you’ve arrived at the airport? Best advice, if you are a couple travelling with children, is let one of you take them, plus the baggage, to a comfortable seating area within the airport.

what happens if flight is cancelled

The best person in your group to get meaningful answers from the airline’s customer service desk is the one who originally booked the flights. This is the person completely au fait with the reservation details. If there’s a long queue at the desk, telephone the airline and get answers / re-routes – any and all useful information.


TIP: Divide and conquer. Any engagement with the airline to solve a cancelled flight is best done by the member of your group who made the actual flight reservation in the first instance. This is the individual who will have all of the pertinent information to hand. Restless children and luggage should be moved to a quieter place in the airport to allow the responsible adult to engage with the airline staff without distraction.


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Recognise who is going to help you

I cannot stress this enough – stay calm. If you’re at the airport with the dreaded ‘flight cancelled now what do I do’ scenario, it won’t help anyone if you get shouty. The person who’s best placed to resolve this nightmare is the Airline representative that you speak to face to face or by phone. These are the wonderful people who spend 8 hours a day being harangued by disappointed travellers. They are paid to solve every traveller’s difficulty, but it’s only human nature that they are motivated to help those who treat them with respect.


TIP: The Airline will help solve your dilemma. Be polite to the Customer Service Representative. They really want to help you.


Return Cancellations


Getting Ahead of a Problem

One of the loveliest aspects of getting away on vacation is switching off. By this I mean, tuning out the day to day news bulletins, not reading your regular daily paper and just slipping, ever so gracefully, off your grid. I wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s the ultimate mental refresh.

There’s just one proviso to this… do keep an eye and ear open for any significant developments that may be about to unfold at your holiday destination. Industrial actions or strikes by airport staff, air traffic controller pay disputes or dramatic weather fronts, any or all of these can have a very real impact on your scheduled flight. A casual glance at the local news, or a scan of a newspaper headline as you’re adding to your freckle collection, can really get you mobilised ahead of a drama.

Your flight may well be cancelled, and there’s nothing you can do about it, but at least you can manage your accommodation if you need to extend your vacation. Although a lot of airlines will offer complimentary accommodation to cancelled travellers, some of the hotels that are used can be a little jaded. Just imagine you’ve been luxuriating for two weeks in one of Exceptional Villas divine properties only to discover your flight off some tropical island is delayed by 24 hours.

Do you really want a 3* experience to be your last memory of your fabulous vacation? It’s worth connecting with the Concierge staff or Villa booker, who may be able to extend your vacation accommodation by 24 hours. In this way, you and your group won’t be too disrupted by the cancellation. Hey, another day in paradise. Whatever it costs is really worth it.


TIP: Check with your Concierge or Villa booker to see if you can extend your stay to avoid major disruption to your vacation.


Read about direct flights from London to the Caribbean.


Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

What happens when your flight is cancelled, and you’re hanging around at the airport in limbo? It usually involves lots of snacks and other expenses. The first rule is to hang onto all of your paperwork: boarding cards, e-tickets and any communications from the Airlines.

If you and your group are obliged to grab some food at the airport, keep receipts for anything purchased. The airline may issue vouchers for refreshments or for hotel accommodation if you need to overnight it. Keep track of what you receive and be sure that if you accept any type of compensation that it doesn’t waive rights you may have to a refund.

Once you get safely home, you will be able to compile a request for full or part reimbursement or compensation for personal outlay from the airline as a result of the cancellation.


TIP: Keep relevant receipts, boarding cards, tickets and any communications you receive from the airline. These are all key pieces that you can use to request a full or partial refund once you get home.


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Final Thoughts

These are a few random things to consider doing when your flight has been cancelled:

  1. If you have a car transfer service meeting you at the other side – let them know your flight is cancelled. This can save or reduce a cancellation fee
  2. If you have a furry family member waiting in a dog kennel or cattery, be sure to let their carers know that you are delayed. The same, if you have a kindly neighbour popping into your home to keep an eye on your pet iguana!
  3. Let anyone know who might be concerned if you don’t return from vacation on the expected day/time.
  4. If a delayed flight impacts your children’s school attendance or your own return to work, do let the relevant people know.
  5. Double check your travel insurance is still valid if your vacation dates are altered due to a flight cancellation.

Conclusion

… and finally, a friend once told me that a cancelled flight was the defining moment for her in a relationship. She and her boyfriend had been away in the Mediterranean for a few glorious weeks when they arrived at a hot and sweaty airport for their flight home.

As they queued to check-in, the dreaded announcement: ‘flight cancelled’ came over the tannoy. Overwhelmed and exhausted after two weeks of hectic partying, she just sat on her luggage in the middle of the hoards and wept.

Her fabulous boyfriend sprang into action. In the midst of the chaos, not only did he manage to make her laugh, but he figured out how they could get home a day later. And reader… she married him.

When a flight is cancelled, it’s never the end of the world… it just feels like it! Try not to lose your sense of humour.

Happy Travelling!

About Mairead Moriarty

Born and raised in Co Kerry, lived in London, New York, San Francisco, Dublin. Owner of one very battered suitcase, a well-worn passport and a million memories. It seems very fitting for a travel writer that my surname translates as ‘Skilled Navigator’. Apart from an occasion when, aged 3, I got lost in a Supermarket in Tralee, I have managed to live up to my name! Curiosity is probably the driver that has sent me on magical mystery tours around the world. I want to ‘feel’ a place. I want all my senses to be engaged: from the history and geography that has influenced a country or city, the arts and achievements of its natives, anything and everything really. Regardless of whether I am on a local train travelling through Morocco, or poking around in Marconi’s study in Bologna or on a canal boat weaving through the heart of the English countryside, the same rules apply - ask questions, talk to locals, eat what they eat, sit quietly with nature and simply be. Assimilate as much as is possible so as to understand the soul of a place. That is my passion. That is the compass by which I navigate.

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