(CNN) – It’s been a tough job for some air travelers here during the winter vacation rush – and it may not be over soon.
Citing the spike in Omicron variant cases, airlines have canceled and delayed thousands of flights since December 23.
While most flights are still in progress, what if you are one of the unlucky passengers? Here are some tips to help travelers navigate the system when flights are delayed or canceled:
Avoid getting trapped at the airport
As bad as it may be to find out that your flight has been delayed for a long time, or worse, canceled, it’s best to find out from the comfort of your home or hotel room and make new arrangements from there. of the.
You can also put your airline and flight number directly into a Google search bar to retrieve the status that way. It’s also handy for friends or family who are ready to pick you up.
If you are already at the airport
A flight information display system shows departure times at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on Monday, December 27.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
Sometimes delays and cancellations occur after you arrive at the airport. Once the bad news is announced, what to do?
Keyes said to make your way to the airline’s agents office as fast as possible – and be prepared to multitask while you stand in line.
Fast is a key word here. “It’s going to make a difference who comes first. It’s first come, first served. Positioning near the desk can pay off,” Keyes said.
Then call your operator while you wait. Depending on your place in the queue, it may be faster to reach a call center. âWhatever happens first, great,â he said.
Calls to US national numbers can have very long waits. Keyes suggested trying an international call center for your carrier instead.
âMost US-based travelers don’t think about calling the Canadian Delta helpline. You could contact an agent much faster. They can all handle your reservations the same way. “
Attitude and research material
Passengers line up to check-in for their flights at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va. On Monday, December 27.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
Whether you’re dealing with an agent in person or over the phone, the way you approach things can make a big difference. It starts with attitude.
âHoney attracts more flies than vinegar,â Keyes said. âLook at it from the perspective of airline agents. They have been dealing with angry customers since the start of the pandemic. The agent is the one most able to help you.
“Asking kindly and sympathetically is much more likely to get what you want than being a jerk about it.”
He had another tip when it was your turn to talk to an agent about making new arrangements: “Prepare to come up with your own options already.” Doing your own research is absolutely helpful.
Your agent can speed things up if you’ve already researched new routes and possible suggestions while you were waiting. Be prepared to explain what you want.
If you booked through Expedia or another third-party site, you will need to go through them in the event of a cancellation.
If the price is the same, Keyes suggested that you book directly with the airline. If there is a problem, “it makes it much more complicated with multiple sets of policies” when you book through a third party.
The group also backs Keyes’ advice to be kind and polite to agents, but also says consumers should persist in trying to resolve the situation satisfactorily.
Trapped for the night
A woman and child wait for their flight alongside another traveler at Miami International Airport on Monday, December 27.
Rebecca Blackwell / AP
What do you do if it looks like you won’t be able to get on a plane until the next day and you’re not in your hometown?
âAsk the airline to put you up in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They might do it; they might not. It’s not required by law,â Keyes said.
They’re less likely to do it if it’s weather related, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical issue with the plane or personnel issues.
Whatever you do, at least ask, Keyes said. A voucher for hotels and even ground transportation and meals probably won’t just be offered.
You should also research your credit card information. Keyes said your card may have protections for passengers, including free hotel rooms if you get stuck and maybe even cover your food and taxi to the hotel. Find out what you need to do to get your money back.
If your flight is delayed instead of being canceled outright, you might want to weigh whether to wait at the airport. Depending on your personal situation, hiding there for five or six hours may be easier than coming and going from a hotel. Also, said Keyes, check to see if there is a hotel in the airport.
Cancel your trip and fly later
âIf you are planning to fly next week and are worried about Omicron, the airlines are offering free changes to your flight,â Keyes said. “If you want to change your travel dates, you can change it without penalty.”
He also noted that if the new travel dates are cheaper, you can get travel credit. (Conversely, you will pay more if the flight is more expensive.)
“By taking a vacation flight in February, you are less likely to encounter this Omicron situation. You could save a few hundred dollars.”
Refund rights for your flight
This is the policy, regardless of the reason the airlines cancel or delay the flight. However, what “significant delay” remains open to interpretation.
According to the DOT website, âit has not specifically defined what constitutes aâ significant delay. âWhether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your circumstances. The DOT determines if you are entitled to a refund for a significant delay on a case-by-case basis.
CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Jordan Valinsky, Chris Liakos, and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.