What was already a peak week for travel has been made considerably more complicated by a series of events. Nationwide winter storms ground thousands of flights; Southwest alone canceled 70 percent of its flights on Monday and more than 60 percent on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the flight tracker FlightAware. Stripes Of luggage crowded baggage claim areas at US airports and Canada. lines to range airline company customer service desks snaked throughout the terminals. Stranded passengers are faced with limited flight options, and available alternatives often have price tags exceeding $1,000 for a single one way ticket.
“Normally during the holidays there’s no glut of seats, there’s no slack in the system when something goes wrong to make up for it quickly. This is the case with all airlines,” says travel expert Gary Leff of the travel blog View from the wing. “So that means there’s even less than normal in the way of additional seats that a Southwestern passenger might find elsewhere.”
Whether you have an upcoming flight or are stuck at the airport wondering if you’ll ever make it to your destination, you have a few options: reschedule, refund, claim, or wait. Here are some answers to help you make a plan for one of the busiest travel seasons in recent memory.
What’s going on with air travel right now?
About 60 percent of the US population was on some form of winter weather warning over the holiday weekend, according to the National Weather Service. Snow, freezing rain, ice and strong winds affected the East and Midwest, the Lowlands and the Pacific Northwest. As a result, thousands of flights were canceled, with airports in Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth and Phoenix experiencing major upheavals.
Of all the canceled flights, most come from Southwest Airlineswhat is expected it only operates about a third of its flights for the rest of the year. Extreme weather conditions have been the tipping point for a cascading series of problems, Leff says. Between understaffing, outdated scheduling systems, and out-of-position planes and crew, the airline is unable to get flights off the ground. “There was a plane from Tampa to Denver that flew most of the way there and turned around because there was no one on the ground to receive it,” Leff says. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said so the department would hold the airline accountable for the disturbance.
I have an upcoming flight. What can I do to prepare?
Before leaving for the airport, make sure you’ve signed up for SMS alerts and downloaded your airline’s app (turn on notifications) or FlightAware app to get flight information in real time. If your flight is delayed or canceled well in advance, you can make proper plans from the comfort of a hotel or loved one’s home instead of the chaos of the airport.
Snap a few photos of your bag so that if it gets lost in the line, you can give an accurate description of what it looks like. Leff also recommends placing an Apple AirTag in your luggage so you can track the exact location of your suitcase, whether it’s halfway across the country or in a pile at baggage claim.
Familiarize yourself with the services your airline provides in the event of a delay or cancellation so you know how to stand up for yourself and other passengers. The United States Department of Transportation Airline customer service dashboard details various services airlines have committed to provide if a flight is canceled for reasons the airline can control, such as maintenance or crew issues, but not weather. These services include free ticket rebooking on the same airline (or a partner airline) or a meal voucher for delays of more than three hours.
Your credit card may also offer travel delay cover or baggage delay cover where the cost of hotel, meals and expenses are reimbursed. Chase Sapphire Reserve, the American Express Platinum Card and the Capital One Venture X Rewards credit card are among them credit cards that offer these protectionsbut check your credit card agreement for exact details.
Some airlines, like United, American, Jet Blueand Alaska Airlines waive the change fee if your flight this week is affected by weather conditions. So, if you have some flexibility, you might want to try changing your flight if you’re traveling to, say, Buffalo, whose newly reopened airport.
My flight is always delayed. I have to get out of this airport.
Southwest Airlines is offering refund for passengers flying between December 24, 2022 and January 2, 2023, who incur “reasonable” additional expenses on hotels, rental cars, food and tickets on other airlines while experiencing significant delays or a canceled flight. “What people don’t know is what will be considered reasonable,” Leff says. “And so there’s a risk that if you buy that last-minute flight with another airline, it’s the only seat available and it costs $2,000. What will Southwest say? Will they pay for five nights in a hotel until they can get you where you were trying to get to, or will they pay for three meals a day during that time? You will need to cover expenses upfront and submit receipts Via e-mail. According to a statement from Southwest, refund requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The airline does not have a deadline by which to issue refunds, but said “it will take a little longer than normal given the volume”.
For delays that extend overnight due to controllable issues, many other airlines, including American, Delta, Spirit, Southwest and United, are offering free hotel accommodations, according to the DOT Airline Customer Service Dashboard. Many of these airlines also offer free hotel transportation. Again, extreme weather isn’t one of the “controllable” reasons why an airline would offer these services, but it’s still worth asking.
Passengers dealing with “Significant” delays give the right to a full refund they should choose not to travel. The DOT has not defined what constitutes a “significant” delay, but rather decides on a case-by-case basis taking into account the length of the delay and the length of the flight. Under normal circumstances, refunds would be issued fairly quickly; given the scale of the current disruptions, Leff says it’s hard to predict when passengers can expect refunds.
For airlines that do not cover hotel stays and meals, go to the Baggage Service office in Baggage Claim and inquire rate for travelers in difficultyLeff says. “When the airline doesn’t pay for the hotel, it may have discounts available on hotels through its own negotiated rates, and the hotels provide that discount because they want the deal from the airline,” he explains. “So you might get a better rate than if you were to book directly yourself. It is not a publicly available rate.
My flight has been cancelled. And now?
Regardless of the reason for cancellation, every passenger is right to full refund they should choose not to rebook.
For delays and cancellations, Leff says the best course of action is to avoid long lines at the airline counter at the airport. “Standing in line for hours on end probably won’t give you any useful information,” he says. But exhaust all your options: try calling, connecting via social media, chatting via the mobile app or with club-level staff, researching other flight options on other airlines, or plotting a route by train or by bus. “You’d better look into flight options yourself as if you were buying again, knowing that with a canceled flight you’ll get your money back, and then at least have the ability to send Southwest receipts for some level of reimbursement, Leff says of the passengers dealing with that particular situation.
Just remember that the airline staff, on the phone and at the airport, are not responsible for the crash and they are not the people to unleash your frustrations on. be gentle.
I finally landed. Where is my baggage?
Along with flight disruptions are mystifying passenger baggage routes. When your bags don’t arrive at their destination, speak to a member of airport staff immediately. They may have paperwork to fill out describing the physical attributes of the suitcase and its contents. We hope the airport can locate and deliver your baggage to you in a timely manner. (Before you leave, make sure there are no irreplaceable items, such as keys, or things you’ll need immediately, such as medication, in your checked bag.)
The maximum an airline can pay a passenger for permanently lost baggage it’s $3,800 for domestic flights. Again, airlines may reimburse you for items you had to purchase while your suitcase was missing, so keep your receipts.
Air travel is exponentially more stressful right now. Have a plan (and a backup plan), know what expenses the airlines will cover, and try to anticipate potential headaches.
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A huge amount of unclaimed baggage is collected at Southwest Airlines baggage claim at Midway Airport on December 27, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Jim Vondrushka/Getty Images