How to Deal With Travel Disruptions
To say this is going to be a bad weekend for travelers on the East Coast is probably an understatement. Hurricane Irene has forced airlines to cancel hundreds of flights. Amtrak has canceled most train service south of Washington, D.C., for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Bus lines, such as Greyhound, are canceling routes. And cruise ships are delaying departures and changing itineraries.
So what do you do if your travel plans have been disrupted because of the approaching storm? Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, shares these tips:
Check the status of your flight, cruise, etc. before you leave home. Most airlines, bus lines, Amtrak and cruise lines have travel alerts posted on their sites (search for "Hurricane Irene" if you can't find an alert on the homepage) with details about cancellations and delays. If you're flying, for example, you're entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled because of the storm, but the airline isn't required to pay for a hotel room or provide food vouchers if you're stranded at the airport due to a cancellation or delay. Come prepared to the airport with a list of nearby hotels and their phone numbers. Ask for the distressed travelers rate if your flight is canceled and you're stranded because some hotels will offer discounts in these situations.
Act quickly to reschedule because you want to be the person who gets on the next available flight (or train or bus). If you're already at the terminal, get in line at customer service immediately -- and call the airline on your phone or log onto its site -- to change your itinerary. Or try using Twitter because some airlines respond to customers better this way. Use as many approaches as possible to speak with a representative because one may be quicker than the other. If you're still at home and you call the airline, expect to stay on hold for a while (Banas has heard reports of 30-minute wait times). While you're waiting to speak with a customer service rep, go online to see if you can make changes that way.
Read the fine print. Many airlines are waiving change fees for people who have to reschedule their flights because of the hurricane (see the list at FareCompare.com). And Banas says JetBlue isn't charging passengers if there's a difference in fares between their original and new flights. However, pay attention to the fine print when you reschedule because most airlines have time limits on when you can take a rescheduled trip. If you don't want to reschedule, Banas recommends asking for a refund rather than a travel voucher, which can be difficult to redeem.
Don't forget to call the hotel. If you booked a room for this weekend but can't make it to your destination, call the hotel as soon as possible to see if you can change or cancel your reservation without penalties -- even if your reservation was listed as nonrefundable. Sometimes hotels will relax their policies in situations like this, Banas says. If you want to reschedule, check availability at the hotel online before you call to improve your chances of successfully negotiating a change.