By Forrest Brown, CNN
It has been a heavy blow to some air travelers since the rush of the winter holidays.
Between the peak cases of Omicron variants causing staff shortages and bad winter weather, airlines have canceled and delayed thousands of flights since Dec. 23.
This week, you can blame the weather for the weather.
CNN Business reports that US airlines canceled thousands of flights on Thursday due to a massive winter storm.
What if you are one of the unlucky passengers who got caught up in this? Here are some tips to help travelers navigate the system when flights are delayed or canceled due to staff shortages, weather, or other issues:
Avoid getting stuck at the airport
As bad as it is to find out that your flight has been delayed for a long time, or worse, canceled, it’s better to find out from the comfort of your home or a hotel room and make new arrangements from there.
“Check your flight status before going to the airport. Most of these reports don’t happen at the last minute,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Save yourself the drive to the airport.”
Keyes told CNN Travel in an interview late last year that you should sign up for free text notifications from airlines about flight status when you buy your ticket. You also need to download your carrier’s app.
You can also put your airline and flight number directly into a Google search bar to get the status that way. That’s also handy for friends or family standing by to pick you up.
Keyes also suggested checking the FlightAware website to track bigger flight trends across the country.
If you are already at the airport
Sometimes the delays and cancellations happen after you arrive at the airport. What should you do after the bad news is delivered?
Keyes said you should get to the airline counter ASAP — and get ready to multitask while you’re in line.
Fast is a keyword here. “It’s going to make a difference who arrives first. It’s first come, first served. Putting yourself close to the desk can pay off,” Keyes said.
Then call your courier while you wait. Depending on where you stand in line, getting to a call center may be faster. “Whatever happens first, great,” he said.
Calls to US domestic numbers can take a very long time. Keyes suggested trying an international call center for your provider instead.
“Most travelers in the US don’t even think about calling the Canadian Delta helpline. You may be put through to a broker much faster. They can all handle your reservations equally well.”
You can also use a self-service kiosk, says American Airlines. “Scan your boarding pass or enter your record locator to see your updated journey details. From there you can also rebook your flight and print your new boarding passes.”
Attitude and inquiry are important
Whether you’re dealing with an agent in person or over the phone, how you approach business can make a big difference. That starts with attitude.
“Honey attracts more flies than vinegar,” Keyes said. “Look at this from the airline agents’ perspective. They have really dealt with irate customers since the start of the pandemic. The broker is the one who can best help you.
“Asking in a friendly and sympathetic way is much more likely to get you what you want than being a jerk about it.”
He had another tip when it’s your turn to talk to a broker about making new appointments: “Come prepared to offer your own options already. Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.”
Your agent can speed things up if you’ve already looked up new routes and possible suggestions while waiting. Be prepared to explain what you want.
If you booked through Expedia or another third-party site, you must act through them in the event of cancellation.
If the price is the same, Keyes suggested booking directly with the airline. In the event that something goes wrong, it “makes things much more complicated with multiple sets of policies” when you book through a third party.
US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, suggests avoiding stopovers when booking if possible. The more often you stop, the greater the chance that something will go wrong.
The group also supports Keyes’ advice to be nice and polite to agents, but also says consumers should be persistent in trying to resolve the situation satisfactorily.
Caught for the night
What do you do when it looks like you can’t fly until the next day and you’re not in your hometown?
“Ask the airline to accommodate you in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They could do it; she may not. It’s not required by law,” Keyes said.
They’re less likely to do it if it’s weather-related, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical problem with the plane or personnel issues.
What you can get depends on the airline itself and the specific circumstances of why a flight was cancelled.
Get to know the policy. For example, Delta Air Lines says it will provide a hotel voucher in some circumstances if the trip is interrupted more than four hours after the scheduled departure time when the delay is between 10 PM and 6 AM.
Whatever you do, just ask, Keyes said. A voucher for hotels and even land transport and meals is not just offered.
You should also look up your credit card information. Keyes said your card may have passenger protection, which includes free hotel rooms if you’re stranded and might even cover your food and taxi to the hotel. Check out what you need to do to get a refund.
If your flight is delayed rather than canceled completely, you may want to consider whether you should wait at the airport. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may be easier to hang out there for five or six hours than to get to and from a hotel. Also, Keyes said, check to see if there is a hotel at the airport.
The Points Guy advises going to an airport lounge if possible, where you can charge your phone and rest more easily.
Cancel your trip and fly later
“If you’re scheduled to fly … and you’re concerned about Omicron, airlines offer free changes to your flight,” Keyes said. “If you want to change your travel dates, you can do so without penalty.”
He also noted that if the new travel dates are cheaper, you can get a travel credit. (Conversely, you pay more if the flight is more expensive.)
Refund rights for your flight
The US Department of Transportation says you are entitled to a refund of your ticket costs due to a cancellation or “significant delay” and you choose not to travel.
This is the policy regardless of why the airlines cancel or delay the flight. What “significant delay” is, however, open to interpretation.
According to the DOT website, “It has not specifically defined what a ‘significant delay’ is. Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight and your specific circumstances. The DOT determines on a case-by-case basis whether you are entitled to a refund after a significant delay.”
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Jordan Valinsky, Chris Liakos and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.