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Here's what to do if your flight is canceled

Business Insider logo Business Insider 28/1/2022 tpallini@businessinsider.com (Thomas Pallini,Taylor Rains)
Airlines at a snowy airport. EchoVisuals/Shutterstock © EchoVisuals/Shutterstock Airlines at a snowy airport. EchoVisuals/Shutterstock
  • The Northeast is anticipating a major winter storm and airlines are expected to cancel or delay dozens of flights. 
  • Travelers with canceled flights are owed a refund and can push for hotel stays and alternate travel. 
  • Trip insurance can help get expenses reimbursed if it's due to a flight delay or cancelation. 

A major winter storm is heading to the Northeast this weekend and airlines are anticipating dozens of flight delays and cancellations. 

Heavy snowfall, coastal flooding, and strong winds are all expected to start Friday night and fully hit the East Coast on Saturday, with possible blizzard conditions happening in eastern and southern New England, according to the National Weather Service.

Cities like Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine are likely to be impacted, though serious snow and wind could also occur in parts of New York, Connecticut, and down to the mid-Atlantic, according to the NWS. However, the agency said the nor'easter's track and timing are not exact, so the forecast could change by the weekend. 

Because of the expected impact to travel, airlines are preemptively waiving change fees and fare differences for customers who want to switch their flight ahead of the storm. Moreover, cancel fees are also being waived.

While customers scheduled to fly to or from the Northeast this weekend should expect disruptions, the nor'easter could create a snowball effect that impacts each airline's entire network. So, those flying in a different part of the country should also anticipate delays or cancellations due to possibly displaced crews and planes caused by the winter storm.

There's no foolproof method to avoid being stranded when flight cancellations and delays strike, but travelers should take precautions before heading to the airport to increase their chances of resolving airline-related issues.

Here are six tips to deal with delayed and canceled flights.

Know how to contact an airline 

A Southwest airport agent helping a passenger. Patrick T. Fallon /AFP/Getty Images © Patrick T. Fallon /AFP/Getty Images A Southwest airport agent helping a passenger. Patrick T. Fallon /AFP/Getty Images

At the airport, airline gate staff and customer service agents can help rebook flights in the event of a cancellation or delay. Travelers should find the closest customer service center as early as possible. 

Airline phone numbers are also available on their websites and apps; it can be worth saving those numbers into your phone's contact book ahead of time. 

Here are the customer service numbers for US airlines:

  • Alaska: 1-800-252-7522
  • Allegiant: 1-702-505-8888
  • American: 1-800-433-7300
  • Avelo: 1-346-616-9500
  • Breeze: No phone number. The fastest way to contact Breeze is via Facebook Messenger.
  • Delta: 1-800-221-1212
  • Frontier: 1-801-401-9000
  • JetBlue: 1-800-538-2583
  • Southwest: 1-800-435-9792
  • Spirit: 1-855-728-3555
  • Sun Country: 1-651-905-2737
  • United: 1-800-864-8331

Social media also can be a useful resource — sending an early direct message to the carrier's Twitter can act as a virtual placeholder on the customer service line.

Know how the airline is preparing for a storm

American plane after landing on a snowy day. EchoVisuals/Shutterstock © EchoVisuals/Shutterstock American plane after landing on a snowy day. EchoVisuals/Shutterstock

US airlines are preemptively waiving change and cancel fees, as well as fare differences ahead of the winter storm. Frontier, JetBlue, United, Delta, American, Spirit, and Southwest have issued travel advisories on their website and outlined their policies regarding the nor'easter.

Travelers should regularly check their carrier's website for any updates and make changes to their reservation as soon as possible.

Use an airline's mobile app or website to rebook

United mobile app. United Airlines © United Airlines United mobile app. United Airlines

Airlines have made it easier for passengers to rebook with a mobile app. Flight change fees will be waived in those cases and travelers, in theory, should be able to find and book backup flights. 

During high-traffic periods including ones following airline meltdowns, however, availability might be scarce as thousands of fellow passengers are also trying to rebook. If online means of rebooking aren't being helpful, talking to an airline representative is the next best bet. 

Know your traveler rights

Passengers in line in Miami to rebook canceled American Airlines flights in 2021. Taylor Rains/Insider © Taylor Rains/Insider Passengers in line in Miami to rebook canceled American Airlines flights in 2021. Taylor Rains/Insider

Airlines must provide a refund to travelers who cancel their bookings outright, according to the Department of Transportation.

Travel credits offered by the airline can often only be used on that airline, while a refund gives travelers additional freedom, whether it be to scrap a trip outright or rebook with a different airline. However, the airline may not be inclined to help once a booking is fully canceled and refunded.

Travelers can also request vouchers for meals and hotel stays if the disruption to a trip is severe. In the case of weather, there is no obligation for airlines to offer anything to passengers because the disruptions are outside of the carrier's control, so passengers may be limited in what they get. 

Moreover, there is no federal law requiring carriers to compensate passengers for delays, according to the DOT, and airlines are given the freedom to create their own reimbursement practices. Travelers should be familiar with their carrier's delay policy and not be afraid to ask for a meal or hotel voucher regardless of the reason for the delay.

Understand travel insurance and credit card coverage 

a circuit board: The Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum travel credit cards. Jenny Cheng/Business Insider © Jenny Cheng/Business Insider The Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum travel credit cards. Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Certain travel credit cards including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum Card have built-in trip insurance when you book with those cards. 

One event that may apply is if you can't reach your destination for at least 24 hours "due to severe weather (or another covered reason)," traveler insurer Allianz's website reads. 

But not all policies require a 24-hour delay. The "trip delay reimbursement" benefit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve provides reimbursement if your travel is delayed more than 6 hours or requires an overnight stay.

Insider used the reimbursement policy on a trip in summer 2021 and was covered for all expenses.

Settle in for a long wait — and know when to jump ship

An airline traveler making a phone call. Phil Walter / Getty © Phil Walter / Getty An airline traveler making a phone call. Phil Walter / Getty

Remember that airlines will be handling the same issues for thousands of customers, as well as trying to return to its normal schedule. Long lines and waits will be incredibly common. 

Travelers might consider alternate means of transportation if flying doesn't look immediately possible. A rebooked flight might also be canceled or delayed as the airline gets back on its feet. 

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