Plane in Sky
Make contactUse milesSocial mediaDo researchBe flexibleBe niceSmall bags

You got a cheap flight to your dream destination, then – disaster! The flight is cancelled or delayed. First, know your rights before you fly; find them in the Department of Transportation Guide to Passenger Rights. Then, try these strategies.

Make contact with an airline representative

1. Get in line, get on the phone: If you’re at the airport, get in line to talk to an airline rep and get on the phone, too. That way, you increase your odds of talking to someone who can help. Don’t have your airline’s app on your phone? Download it now.

Use your miles

2. Join airline miles programs: Most airline miles programs include a special hotline number for elite members; if you’re one of them, now is the time to use it. If you’re not elite, you might still benefit by getting moved ahead of non-members in airline pecking order for who gets a seat on the next available flight.

Use social media

3. Go on Twitter: A lot of airlines pay close attention to social media so tweet your predicament to the airline and ask for assistance. If you’re not on Twitter or Facebook join now, and follow all the airlines you travel on.

Do some quick research

4. Help out the overwhelmed airline rep: While you’re standing in line, use your phone or tablet to find the next flight out for yourself, then give the airline rep this info because it might save both of you a lot of time. And don’t be afraid to look for available seats on competing airlines; sometimes (though not always) airlines book customers on rival carriers at no extra cost. If that does not seem likely but you absolutely must get to your destination as quickly as possible, it might be worth paying extra to fly another airline then battle your original carrier for reimbursement once you get home.

Airport flexibility

5. Look at nearby airports: Be creative and be flexible. For example, if you can’t get out of your airport, ask if the situation is better at another that’s somewhat nearby. Example: If you’re having a problem at Washington Dulles see if it’s better at Washington Reagan. Or if there’s a problem at Los Angeles International see if you can fly into or out of Burbank or Long Beach. Sure, you might have a longer drive but it could be worth it.

Be nice

6. Keep your cool: Long delays and cancellations can test the patience of the most courteous passengers, but please, keep your cool. The airline rep didn’t cause your problem and it would be a mistake to unload on the one person who can help you. We’ve heard story after story of harried gate agents who were especially helpful to travelers who were calm and pleasant.

Use a carry-on bag

7. Pack light: One reason to use a carry-on bag is it won’t go missing. Example: Your flight has been cancelled but the airline rep says there’s a seat on a plane that’s leaving right now and you’ll have to run to make it. Guess what? A big checked-bag won’t make it but a carry-on will be right there by your side. Here is an excellent packing method for carry-ons (or any bag, really).

Now get out there and make the best of a bad situation. And safe travels.