What to do if you’re stranded at the airport because of canceled flights

December 27, 2021, 6:26 PM UTC

Many airline travelers are still experiencing major delays and even canceled flights well after the Christmas weekend, as the surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 hit airline crews and a massive weekend snowstorm snarled travel in the Western U.S. 

FlightAware is reporting that more than 950 flights in and out of the U.S. have been canceled as of midday Monday, while another 2,400 have been delayed. 

United Airlines has canceled 115 of its more than 4,000 scheduled flights on Monday due to Omicron impacting staffing, a spokesperson told Fortune. Southwest Airlines says that while it hasn’t experienced COVID-related scheduling issues, it has canceled about 50 flights on Monday because of winter weather conditions.  

Still, the FlightAware stats suggest that tens of thousands of would-be fliers are dealing with travel headaches today. With most airlines now offering travelers a variety of ways to get in touch, what’s your best bet to get your flight dilemma solved fast? 

If you’re already at the airport, it may be helpful to reach out through multiple channels, says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a nonprofit that focuses on consumer issues with travel. 

Leocha, a frequent traveler himself, says that once an airline cancels a flight, he typically shoots off a tweet or a message on social media to the airline’s official account. “I don’t really tweet very much, but I know that Twitter does work and Facebook works” in getting a carrier’s attention, he says. So check it off your list of things to do right away. “They’re going to get back to you at some point.”

Leocha also points out that air carriers are sometimes “just overwhelmed, just like everybody else.” So don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Once you’ve fired off your messages, make your way to customer service and get in line. “It’s always going to take you about an hour to get through” if the airline is facing multiple delays and cancellations, Leocha says.  

Once in line, it’s time to call customer service. “The last phase I do is I sit on the telephone, and I wait on the phone while I’m in line,” Leocha says. Don’t just get in line and wait, in other words. To make sure you’re being productive, get on the phone. And if you have status on an airline, make sure you’re utilizing the best customer service number. Many airlines have dedicated support teams for travelers with elite status. 

Many times, a customer service team member can solve a problem before you make it to the front of the line. “A lot of times it works out just fine,” Leocha says. 

Keep in mind that depending on your flight and reason behind the cancellation or delay, you may be entitled to compensation. Companies like AirHelp may be able to guide you through the process of getting paid. (AirHelp, however, does charge a service fee that’s generally about 35% of the compensation passengers receive.) 

For flights in the U.S., airlines are required to compensate passengers only if they’re bumped from a flight that is oversold. That said, you can always ask airline staff if they will pay for meals or a hotel room if a flight is severely delayed, rescheduled, or canceled. Some airlines do offer these services to passengers, but others don’t—and most forgo these amenities if weather is behind the issues.

Leocha also recommends filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT) once you’re back home. The agency sometimes responds to persistent complaints either by urging airlines to make changes or by enacting changes in policy. “It’s really good to pass on to DOT the problems that you have. If you don’t do that, then DOT never knows,” Leocha says—and then these problems can’t get solved in the long term.

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