Few words in travel are as maddening as “Your flight’s been canceled.”
In the winter, it’s a phrase airlines utter with regularity, thwarting plans and stressing out passengers and airline employees.
During the busy Thanksgiving travel rush, airlines canceled hundreds of flights in the Northeast and Midwest.
Here’s a guide to making weather delays and cancellations less stressful:
1. Do pay attention to your airline’s website, mobile app or Facebook and Twitter accounts at the first hint of weather trouble, especially if this trip is for a can’t-miss event or a delay or cancellation would leave you in a bind with work or other obligations. Airlines routinely issue travel advisories, alerts and waivers (the names vary by carrier) ahead of big storms, allowing travelers to move their flight to an eligible earlier or later date to dodge a weather mess. The best part: You won’t pay a change fee or fare difference. You might even luck out and get a better flight than you booked.
2. Don’t head for the airport before checking your flight status and checking for any notifications from your airline. Unless it’s a last-minute delay or cancellation, there’s little excuse for not knowing about it. Airlines regularly alert travelers about flight troubles via email, text message, their mobile apps and sometimes even the phone if that’s the contact information you provided. Some airlines automatically rebook you on the next available flight if your flight is canceled. This is one of the reasons its important to provide contact information when booking tickets.
3. Do check out airline self-service options for rebooking. The snaking line at the customer service counter or gate and the airline’s reservations centers aren’t the only way to book a new flight. Many airlines allow you to rebook your flight (if they haven’t already or you don’t like the flight they picked) on their websites and mobile apps. Even if you’re not a frequent flyer, download your airline’s mobile app. Airlines keep adding more features to the apps, and the information is invaluable at the airport.
4. Don’t take the trip if rebooking is too much of a hassle and the trip is discretionary. Airlines are required to refund your money if your flight is canceled, even if you bought a non-refundable ticket (including those basic economy tickets.)
5. Do not expect the airline to pay for a hotel or food or an extra rental car day if you are stranded coming or going due to weather. Screaming at a gate agent or swearing at the airline on Twitter is not going to change the fact that airlines are not required to provide any kind of compensation or accommodations during weather delays and cancellations. The U.S. Department of Transportation spells it out on the “fly rights” section of its website: “Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”
6. Don’t wait until the last minute to book an airport hotel, or you could end up on the terminal floor during a nasty storm. Airlines often hand out lists of area hotels to stranded travelers – some offering passengers discounts – after a late flight is canceled. But you can get ahead of the crowd by reserving a room the second the flight is canceled. One app to try: HotelTonight. Pro tip: To reduce costs (see No. 5) look for hotels with a complimentary shuttle and free breakfast.
7. Do ask hotels and other travel companies for a break if your vacation has been delayed a day (or more) by a canceled flight. Hotels tend to have more forgiving cancellation policies than airlines, especially during major weather events. Be kind to the person on the phone. They don’t owe you anything.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Flight weather cancellations, delays: 7 things travelers need to know