If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed I spent the last week in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was my second time visiting and it was even better than I remembered, especially because my boyfriend’s sister and dear friend got married! I’ll recap that trip soon. But for now, I’m going to share how I managed to survive a flight diversion and cancellation.
Things were going swimmingly. My Rent the Runway Unlimited selections were packed and ready to go, when the night before my trip, I noticed an email from United about possible travel disruptions in the area of the first stop on our trip. Thanks for the heads up, I thought. Bill and I proceeded to good ol’ IAH for our 9:15 am flight. Everything was on time and we were up in the air as scheduled. And that’s when all hell broke loose. We were told we were circling before landing in Newark to wait out some weather. Then we were told we’d be diverting to Philadelphia. Then we were told there was too much wind in Philadelphia, so we were diverting to Baltimore. And that’s where our flight ended.
Ultimately, after 3 hours on the tarmac, another 3 hours in the Baltimore airport, 2 hours on the phone with United customer service (mostly getting acquainted with their hold music), and a phone call to my mom telling her Bill and I would be spending the night, we rented a car and drove to New Jersey for some rest. We’d planned to get to Bar Harbor around 6:30 pm on Tuesday, but instead, we arrived at my mom’s house just after midnight. It was a 16 hour travel day and we were not where we were supposed to be.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we road tripped it up to Maine and arrived safe and sound Wednesday evening. Despite the cancelled flight and lost day in Maine, I had an amazing trip and made it in time for all the wedding festivities. So without further ado, I present to you my tips for surviving a cancelled flight.
Flight Cancelled – Now what?
Bill and I lost an entire day of our trip, had to rent a car and sit in it for 10 hours while driving to Maine when we could have been hiking and eating and exploring the town. That’s one way to look at what happened. But the other is that I got to see my mom for a couple of hours unexpectedly and Bill and I got to spend some quality time together driving through beautiful New England, and we still arrived in time to enjoy all of the wedding festivities.
It’s all about keeping things in perspective. Sure, it was incredibly frustrating to deal with sub par customer service from the United Airlines. They couldn’t control the weather, but what happened at the airport was a total fustercluck. Ultimately, though, we were fortunate to be in an area where we had family nearby and nothing preventing us from driving. Having our heads on straight made dealing with the whole fiasco not so bad.
Now that you’ve got a cool head, it’s time to brainstorm. I’m a social worker by day, so problem-solving is literally in my job description. Is there another way to your destination? Train, car, bus? How long was your trip? When do you need to be there? Is it better to postpone? Can you extend your trip to make up for the delay? Do you need to call your lodging arrangements or car rental location to let them know you’ve been delayed? What do you have planned right after your arrival? Do you need to reschedule?
Think of as many possible solutions to your dilemma and make a note. Plan A didn’t work, so what are Plans B, C, and D?
Get to Work
Now that you’ve come up with some alternate plans, it’s time to kill ‘em with kindness to get what you want. If you’re traveling with others, designate a point person to do all of the talking. Try to talk to customer service in person if possible. If the lines are long, you may want to take a two pronged plan of attack. Get on the phone and wait on hold whilst waiting in line. Remember, there’s a whole flight or even hundreds of flights full of people who are affected. Here are my tips within a tip.
- Talk to someone in person whenever possible.
- Kill ‘em with kindness. Pretty much everyone is angry about their cancelled flight. Many of those angry people are not kind to the people trying to help them. If you remember tip #1, you CSR is more likely to want to go the extra mile to help you after listening to people berate them all day for a circumstance they were not personally responsible for. Be kind, but don’t be a pushover.
- Get to the point. The CSR doesn’t need to know what you ate for breakfast. Kindly state your current problem and tell them what you want. Don’t wait for them to offer you a solution. Let them know that you need to be to your destination by X date and time and Plan B is what you want. If they tell you Plan B isn’t possible, ask about Plan C. Still no? You may need to nicely escalate this to a supervisor, or settle for Plan D.
- Check and double check your new arrangements. We thought we were all set to go after being diverted. We requested another flight to Portland, Maine if the Bangor flight was not available. Well, the person on the phone instead booked us to Portland, Oregon. We might not have noticed if it weren’t for the 6+ hour flight time listed on the new itinerary.
Be Decisive and Execute
As a rather indecisive person, I empathize with wanting to hmm and haw over which route to take but now is not the time. Whatever resolution you’ve come to, it’s time to execute the new plan. Enjoy the fruits of your hard work. Don’t let the problems ruin what’s left of your trip.
File a Complaint (if warranted)
If everything worked out after the flight cancellation snafu, then, by all means, go about your merry way. Airlines aren’t likely to provide reimbursement for weather related delays/cancellations.
I wish I could say that although our flight was diverted and the second cancelled, United Airlines did everything they could to accommodate us, but that’s not what happened. So after ensuring that our return flights were in tact (only mine was, but we got that sorted out eventually), I let it go for the rest of the trip. But when I returned, I was sure to file formal complaints with the airline and the Department of Transportation. Phew! Adulting is hard.
I’ll let you know if United makes it right. In the meantime, do you have any travel nightmare stories?