What To Do When The Airline Cancels Your Flight

I just spent a harrowing seven hours at the airport due to a weird system outage at Oakland Airport. I should have known something was wrong when I stepped through the sliding glass doors and saw dozens and dozens of people queuing at the Southwest kiosks. I mean, nowadays, everyone uses mobile boarding passes, right?

So I get through security fine, but then find out that my flight has been delayed ten minutes. Okay, not bad. I caught up on some emails at the gate. Twenty minutes later, I find out my flight’s been delayed an hour. Okay, still not too bad. I’ll land in Los Angeles before dinner.

By this time, I’ve heard countless announcements about the Southwest computer and phone systems being down. Not unusual, stuff happens. Then, someone makes an announcement that everyone with mobile boarding passes should immediately see an agent to switch out to a paper one. I do that, no problem.

Our plane lands, passengers deboard. Gate agents make the announcement to start lining up for our flight out to Burbank. We do. Then, the horrible announcement happens: the flight is canceled.

And just like that, there are a hundred of us stranded, wandering the gate area like lost sheep. There’s a plane leaving right now but only A-listers will get those spots. I sigh and shake my head.

Here’s the good news: I made it onto another flight that was departing in the next twenty minutes. I got extremely lucky. I landed in LAX at 6 o’clock and made it back home to the Valley around 7:30.

So here’s what to do if the airline cancels your flight (or at least what worked for me):

  1. Immediately get on the phone with customer service. Everyone bolted to get in line for the desks. Don’t get me wrong — you should too. However, the gate agents were only servicing A-list passengers at that time. So get in line but be on the phone with the airline’s customer service as well. Double your chances of being helped.
  2. Explain the situation, but don’t complain or use profanity. My flight’s cancellation was in no way Southwest’s fault. Their systems have been down all day and they were backed up with delays as it was. As calmly as possible, explain what has happened with your reservation, then ask to either rebook onto a later flight or to get a refund.
  3. Listen to other representatives as they make announcements; act quickly. I got super lucky because another Southwest representative came by as I was in line and on the phone. He explained that those of us who were okay with landing at another airport should follow him immediately, but he could only take six. Because I knew the gate agents were only servicing A-listers at that moment, I was the second person to follow him to another gate where he printed new boarding passes for a flight that was leaving in twenty minutes to LAX.
  4. Twitter, Twitter, Twitter! As I waited to board the flight to LAX, I finally got through to customer service on the phone. The lady told me since I had been rebooked onto another flight, there was nothing else she could do for me. I hung up, got on Twitter right away, and tweeted at the airline. Surprise! I got an reply back almost immediately. Ten minutes waiting in line, almost thirty minutes on the phone, but a few minutes on Twitter and I got everything squared away. Although they weren’t able to refund me because I was rerouted to LAX, they sent me a travel voucher for my next flight with Southwest. Just with one simple tweet, I was able to get a lot more out of it than I did with the other two methods.

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If all else fails, book a hotel for the night, clear your head, and make new plans. The airline should be pretty accommodating with this. Of course, there’s a certain level of stress everyone is feeling in these kinds of situations, but if you’re polite and understanding, it seems to work out for both parties involved. Sometimes, it really isn’t the airline’s fault that the flight got canceled. Either way, make sure to look up your rights as a passenger, which should be available online for every major airline.

Lastly, remember to make the appropriate arrangements for transportation once you land, picking up checked baggage, etc. Although we can’t always prepare for every circumstance, it helps to have a backup plan or two when traveling.

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