- Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights last weekend that left some passengers stranded.
- Travelers with canceled flights are owed a refund and can push for hotel stays and alternate travel.
- Trip insurance can help get expenses reimbursed if it’s due to a flight delay or cancelation.
Southwest Airlines is still canceling flights after a weekend meltdown during which more than 1,700 flights were cut from the schedule.
At least 365 flights have already been canceled for Monday, according to flight tracking company FlightAware, and more may be on the horizon as the airline recovers from a chaotic weekend.
There’s no foolproof method to avoid being stranded when flight cancellations and delays strike, but travelers should take precautions before heading to the airport to increase their chances of resolving airline-related issues.
Here are 5 tips to deal with delayed and canceled flights.
Know how to contact an airline
At the airport, airline gate staff and customer service agents can help rebook flights in the event of a cancellation or delay. Travelers should find the closest customer service center as early as possible.
Airline phone numbers are also available on their websites and apps; it can be worth saving those numbers into your phone’s contact book ahead of time.
Southwest’s customer service phone number is 1-800-435-9792. The call center is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Southwest’s baggage service phone number is 1-888-202-1024, group travel is 1-800-433-8747, and the Spanish language phone number is 1-800-826-6667.
Social media also can be a useful resource — sending an early direct message to Southwest’s Twitter can act as a virtual placeholder on the customer service line.
Use an airline’s mobile app or website to rebook
Airlines have made it easier for passengers to rebook with a mobile app. Flight change fees will be waived in those cases and travelers, in theory, should be able to find and book backup flights.
During high-traffic periods including ones following airline meltdowns, however, availability might be scarce as thousands of fellow passengers are also trying to rebook. If online means of rebooking aren’t being helpful, talking to an airline representative is the next best bet.
Know your traveler rights
Airlines must provide a refund to travelers who cancel their bookings outright, according to the Department of Transportation.
Travel credits offered by the airline can often only be used on that airline, while a refund gives travelers additional freedom, whether it be to scrap a trip outright or rebook with a different airline. However, the airline may not be inclined to help once a booking is fully canceled and refunded.
Travelers can also request vouchers for meals and hotel stays if the disruption to a trip is severe. In the latest case, Southwest is blaming issues outside of its control, however, so passengers might be limited in what they can get.
Understand travel insurance and credit card coverage
One event that may apply is if you can’t reach your destination for at least 24 hours “due to severe weather (or another covered reason),” traveler insurer Allianz’s website reads.
But not all policies require a 24-hour delay. The “trip delay reimbursement” benefit on the Chase Sapphire Reserve provides reimbursement if your travel is delayed more than 6 hours or requires an overnight stay.
This reporter used the reimbursement policy on a recent trip and was covered for all expenses.
Settle in for a long wait — and know when to jump ship
Remember that airlines will be handling the same issues for thousands of customers, as well as trying to return to its normal schedule. Long lines and waits will be incredibly common.
Travelers might consider alternate means of transportation if flying doesn’t look immediately possible. A rebooked flight might also be canceled or delayed as the airline gets back on its feet.