I consider myself fortunate, I haven’t had a flight cancelation in nearly a decade. At some point my streak had to come to an end, and that end came last week. I was at a meeting when I got an alert from United stating that because of weather conditions at Newark I would be able to change my flight without paying the customary extra fees. I took a quick look at my weather app during a break and hoped staying an extra night would not be necessary since I had a family commitment the next morning at 7:30 am. That’s a fancy way of saying, it was my turn to drop off our child at school.
Money Magazine had the best explanation for what we can expect if our flight is canceled:
When Your Flight Is Canceled
First, the bad news: Contrary to popular belief, there are actually no federal requirements for airlines to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled. Still, because it’s bad business to leave your customers in a lurch, most airlines take steps to minimize the costs and inconveniences when travel plans go awry.
When I got to the airport, my 7:30 pm flight was delayed 3 times. Around 10:30 pm our plane landed, weather conditions had improved at Newark, but the flight crew that was supposed to take us home did not show up!
The United staff at the gate promised that another crew would be arrive from Chicago at 12:30 am and take us home. “I promise, once they come you all will go home.” Just a few minutes later as we are on the floor (this airport doesn’t have a lounge) I got another alert from United stating that the flight had been canceled.
A few minutes later, the not so friendly or professional young lady at the gate announced that our flight had officially been canceled and that we would automatically be booked on the next flight at 7:30 am. This again was not true. The flight had actually been rescheduled for the next day at 10:30 am. The other detail was that we could not actually make any changes to our flight using the app, the United website or calling the customer service line. During this episode only one person was able to actually book the 10:30 am flight via phone. We all either gave up after waiting 50+ minutes to speak to an agent or got helped at the desk while waiting for a phone agent.
During my time waiting to be helped at the desk, I got to talk to people from Texas, California and Bergen County. The process was never exlained to us, but one line was to be rebooked and then the other line was for the hotel and breakfast vouchers. I think the only United employee who seemed to care and showed empathy towards us was Brigget N. I came to her gate because the one our not so professional agent was handling did not move at all. Actually, she left us hanging at a gate to go to another then we followed her to a new gate that seemed stock in time. Then several of us went to Brigget’s gate and got help. I made it to the assigned hotel at 1:15 am, roughly 8 hours after arriving to the airport.
Since I did not pay with my Sapphire Reserve or similar card, I did not get the benefits of trip delay/flight cancelation insurance.
After this frustrating experience, I will stick to what has worked for me during the last decade: book the first flight of the day and try to pay with a card that offers compensation if things don’t go as planned.