If Your Flight Gets Canceled, Do This Immediately, Experts Say

You may be able to save your travel arrangements with this one simple tip.

No matter how seasoned a traveler you are, there's nothing worse than arriving at the airport and getting through security with your luggage in hand to find that your flight will no longer be taking off. Unfortunately, this has become all too common in recent months, with COVID-related staffing issues and severe weather events stranding passengers as planes get grounded. But if you're ever in a situation where your flight gets canceled, experts say there's one thing you should do right away to better your chances of saving your travel plans. Read on to see the helpful tip that could keep you from being stuck at the airport.

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You should be first in line to speak to an agent immediately if your flight gets canceled.

A family wearing face masks speaks with a ticket agent at the airport

Whether you're blindsided by the announcement or can sense it coming due to a weather issue, news that a flight has been canceled is likely going to spark a flurry of activity within the terminal. In this case, experts say getting in line to speak to an agent as quickly as possible should be your top priority if you want the best chance at getting on another flight. In some cases, this may mean finding a seat at the gate if you fear your flight is about to get axed.

"It's going to make a difference who arrives first. It's first-come, first-serve," Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, tells CNN Travel. "Positioning yourself close to the desk can pay off."

Multitask as you wait in line by calling the airline's customer service line.

Airport lock down, Flights cancelled on information time table board in airport while coronavirus outbreak pandemic issued around the world

If you don't manage to be first in line to speak to an agent in person, modern technology can still help make sure you're in the best position to get help from the airline as quickly as possible. "In the event of a delay, the best thing to do is everything," Brett Snyder, president of the Cranky Concierge air travel assistance service, tells U.S. News & World Report. "Get in line to talk with an agent; while waiting, pick up your phone," adding that on top of calling customer service, you can also reach out to your travel insurance provider, rebook yourself through your airline's app, or reach out to the airline for help through social media.

Afraid the lines might be just as long on the phone? Keyes suggests finding the number for your airline's international call center to get a leg up. "Most US-based travelers aren't thinking to call the Canadian helpline for Delta. You might get through to an agent much quicker. They can all handle your reservations just the same," he tells CNN Travel.

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Never lose your temper with an agent once it's your turn to speak with them.

a group of customers yelling at an airport agent, customer service

A suddenly canceled flight is bound to create plenty of stress for yourself and everyone else who realizes they may now be stranded. Still, Keyes suggests that remembering to stay calm and polite when speaking to the agent can significantly impact the outcome.

"If you're an airline agent, especially with these hourlong holds, your entire day is spent dealing with irate, frustrated, impatient customers who are frankly not treating you nearly as well as you ought to be treated," he told The New York Times. "If they have somebody who's actually treating them in a humane way, I think they're much more likely to actually go out of their way to try to help you."

Make sure you're asking the right questions when you finally speak to the agent.

Woman sad and unhappy at the airport with flight canceled
David Prado Perucha / Shutterstock

In any cancelation situation, valuable seats on flights leaving later in the day can go from being a hot commodity to booked solid in a matter of minutes. If it's looking unlikely you'll make it out, ask the agent about getting your money back: the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all airlines must give a full refund to affected passengers—no matter why it was grounded.

If you're still holding out hope of getting rebooked, it also helps to ask the agent if any other flights are heading to your destination at all. Airlines "have to accommodate on the next available flight—even with a competitor airline," Zach Griff, senior airline reporter at travel news outlet The Points Guy, tells AARP. "But sometimes these options are only available in person at the airport with a customer service center or with a gate agent."

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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