As I alluded to in this post on the advantage of schedule changes, I used the schedule change to obtain a better flight to Anchorage but low and behold, I did not get to take advantage of that flight as it was cancelled. Thankfully I found out the night before from United that my connecting flight from LaGuardia to Chicago was cancelled. Here are some of the steps I took and some tips to remember the next time you have a cancellation.
1) Always give the airline your cell number and permission to text you with flight updates (at time of making reservation)- I was on the train home from work when I got a text from United that my flight the next morning was cancelled. Interestingly, I was not notified by email so without this text I likely would have missed or at the very least, found out hours later that my flight was cancelled. The earlier you know, the more options you will have to fix the situation.
2) Start researching other flight options – The first thing I do is look to see if the same airline I am suppose to be flying has any more flights that day to my destination. I start with the same airline as it is generally easier to get rebooked on their own flights. That said, airlines will book you on other airlines if they cannot accommodate you on their own flights. This is especially true if you tell the airline you need to be at your destination by a certain time for a family event, cruise, imporant meeting etc.
So after noting the possible flight options from your original airline, use Kayak or similar sites to get an idea what other airlines are flying to your destination and note the times. Make a list of the best three options or so and be prepared to push the agent to get rebooked on another airline.
3) Try to rebook online AND call the airline to rebook at the same time – This applies if you are not at the airport, but simultaneously trying to rebook online while waiting on hold for an airline agent, can save you a lot of time, especially if you did the legwork to find possible flights above. In my case, United allows you to rebook a cancelled or delayed flight at www.united.com/rebook but this was not a perfect soultion. It was showing departures leaving NY that connected only through Chicago (my original routing) to get to Anchorage. Meanwhile, while doing my legwork above, I knew there was a later option routing through San Francisco that the system was not showing me.
So while I was online looking at my possible options, I called United and waited on hold. While on hold with United, I noticed the later Chicago to Anchorage flight at 5:40pm had only 2 first class seats left (remember I booked a first class award to Alaska so I only wanted first class seats which made this tougher). However the only possible NY to Chicago option the online system showed me involved a 5 hour layover and had economy seats. That said, I chose that option online to secure the last two first class seats from Chicago to Anchorage. This proved to be vital as you will see below in step 4.
Even though I had a new flight to Alaska, it wasn’t perfect (due to the long layover, economy seats from NY to Chicago and I wanted to see if the San Francisco option I found on my own was still available) so I continued to wait on hold until I got an agent. When I gave the agent my confirmation number, they were able to see the new flights I had just chose online only a few minutes prior. I explained the issue with the NY to Chicago flight but the agent didn’t seem to grasp what I was trying to do. This leads me to my favorite piece of advice…
4) H.U.C.A. – Remember this post about Hang Up, Call Again? Well, it worked out for me this time as the next agent instantly understood what I was trying to do. He checked availability for all first class options to Anchorage (including options from Denver and San Francisco) and told me they were all sold out. The 2 first class seats I secured for myself online earlier were the only first class seats left to Anchorage so I knew I had to connect through Chicago.
I knew there are several flights daily from the NY region that would get me into Chicago in time to make my flight but in my research while on hold, I saw there was now no first class from NY to Chicago at all. Since I really wanted first class for the much longer flight of the two (Chicago to Anchorage clocks in at over 6 hours in the air), I had no choice but to accept economy seats for the short NY to Chicago flight. I asked the agent to put us on the EWR-ORD flight that would give us a two hour layover in Chicago and to assign exit rows seats since we had booked first class tickets but first class was not available. He did this without any problem and I confirmed our brand new itinerary was newly ticketed.
It turns out the exit room was plenty spacious for a two hour flight so in the end, we didn’t miss out too much. I hope I illustrated how important it is to act right away once you get notified of a cancellation. Remember everyone else on that plane and potentially thousands of others from other flights that may have also been cancelled, are competing with you for a limited number of seats.
In my case, I got the last two first class seats to Anchorage, otherwise I would have been forced to sit in economy the whole way, which obviously wasn’t ideal since I highlighted here why first class to Alaska (for me) is worth it. Lastly, if the first agent says no to a reasonable rebooking request or doesn’t sound knowledge, don’t waste any more time with them and hang up, call again.
Stay tuned for a future post about what to do if a flight is cancelled or severely delayed and you are already stuck at the airport. Here’s hoping your next flight isn’t cancelled!