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What to do if your flight is canceled


If you’re flying in the next few weeks, you may want to start considering your Plan B now. Or maybe I should call it Plan C and D, for cancellations and delays.

As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expands its inspections, it’s likely that the wave of cancellations we’ve seen from American—which canceled 1,000 flights yesterday and 900 more today—will wash over the industry as a whole. According to a New York Times article, a second wave of audits began on March 30 and will continue through the end of June.

Today, expect cancellations from Alaska, American, and Midwest. In the coming weeks, other airlines very well could have more canceled flights. Right now, they seem to be limited to MD-80 aircraft, but as another New York Times article states, this many cancellations affects the entire airline industry, so even passengers flying on different planes or airlines may have to deal with delays.

In today’s earlier blog post, Senior Editor Molly Feltner wrote about the steps American is taking to help stranded passengers. She also gives advice for passengers affected by the smaller number of Alaska and Midwest cancellations.

However, since this situation could be a flyer fact of life for the next few months, I thought I’d round up some more general advice about how to navigate airline cancellations and delays.

The most basic steps are to call and check your airline’s website to assess the chance of delays or canceled flights. Another resource that might be helpful is Orbitz’ Traveler Update, where passengers at airports can post real-time notices about conditions and delays.

Here are some more ideas and resources:’s Rick Seany offered these tips in an article for ABC News:

  • Print out and bring the airline’s contract of carriage.
  • Sign up for airline alerts so you’ll know as soon as your flight is delayed or canceled, and can act fast to find an alternative.
  • Talk to gate agents and VIP club representatives, who are often more responsive than ticket-counter agents.
  • Have a back-up plan before you leave for the airport. Put together a list of alternative flights. Jot down some hotels and car rental agencies near any airports you’ll pass through.

That second New York Times article I mentioned above also offers tips on what to do if you must fly. This article starts out with advice from business travel expert Joe Brancatelli, who advises anyone who can avoid flying today to try and rearrange travel plans. If that’s not an option, keep these tips in mind:

  • Even if you call ahead or check the airline website, you may not get the correct information. Get to the airport, and the gate, early: you want to make sure your seat isn’t given away.
  • If you can, don’t check bags. Since connections are often missed when flights are delayed, there’s an increased chance of losing your baggage.
  • Allow extra time to get through security, and remember the liquid restrictions.

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