Irregular Operations (IRROPS) happen – there’s just no way to be guaranteed that your flight will depart 100%… there is always something that can go wrong. Airlines hate irregular operations more than passengers – it creates a load of work for them: rebooking passengers, finding hotels, fixing aircraft, delaying other flights and other passengers, etc. the list goes on and on.
In the event an irregular operation were to happen, airline computer systems should theoretically automatically rebook you on the next available flight if your current flight is cancelled. This is, however, not always the case. You may be required to either stand in a long line with a bunch of other angry passengers or asked to call the airline directly and rebook over the phone. In either “solution”, there are a number of tips you should follow in order to be rebooked quickly and efficiently on the next available flight.
It Isn’t The Agent’s Fault
Airline flight delays and cancellations are not the airline gate agent’s fault (or airline phone agent’s fault). Do not yell at them, and treat them with kindness – remember they have to deal with a bunch of passengers who are all likely angry and just want to get to their final destination as quickly as possible.
Saying “I appreciate your help” and similar phrases will only earn you bonus points with them – they will be more willing and helpful to assist in fully rebooking you and might even put you on the best available flight. Agents are people too and they are human, so there is absolutely no reason to be angry at them or yell at them as it likely isn’t their fault the flight was delayed or cancelled.
Know Your Options
In the event of an irregular operation, you usually have a few options. While it is different with every airline, usually if your flight is delayed 3-4 or more hours, you can cancel it for free and decide not to travel. You are of course entitled to rebooking, but know that if you do not need to travel you may want to simply head home.
You are entitled to rebooking if the flight is delayed by several hours and looks like it won’t depart (the flight keeps being delayed more and more).
Know your new flight options – look at the departures board and see when the next available flight is. You may consider just calling the airline and rebooking over the phone if the delay on your original flight seems like it will last forever. If there are no direct flights available, look at flights to key hub cities of that airline. You can find a list of hubs by simply searching the airline online. Airlines provide a lot of flights from hubs and therefore if you get on a flight to a hub city, your chances of making it to your destination quicker are higher.
Airlines can rebook you on other airlines even if they are not in the same alliance. For example, United Airlines can rebook you on Alaska Airlines in the event that your United flight is cancelled. The airlines need to have an interline agreement in order for this to work; most major airlines have interline agreements with each other.
Know Your Flights
The best way to check your options should your flight be cancelled is by simply acting as if you were going to be booking a new ticket. Use Google Flights and type in your destination and today’s date – you will get a list of flights that are still available to the public and you can find one that works for you and then simply let the gate or phone agent know your preference. They will appreciate that you did your part (saving them time) and should quickly rebook you without issue.
Airlines can also “protect” you on later flights should it look like your current flight might be delayed or cancelled. They will simply add in the new flights to your reservation and if you need the new flight, you will be accommodated since the airline has protected you and held a seat for you on a future flight.
Know Your Rights
There are several rights that a passenger has when flying. The general guideline is that an airline must transport you from A to B as indicated on your ticket. Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a plane (for example, if your flight from Seattle to Portland is cancelled, the airline could provide a bus instead).
You have several rights when flying and all of them can be found online. Each airline also has different operating procedures for what to do in the event of irregular operations, so some airlines might follow different procedures than other airlines.
If your cancellation was caused by weather and similar events where the airline has no control, you will be rebooked on the next available flight but you likely won’t be given a hotel accommodation if your new flight is the next day – this is because weather cancellation isn’t the fault of the airline. Some airlines are generous and provide hotels regardless.
Should the flight be cancelled because of mechanical reasons or other reasons that are within the airline’s control, you will be rebooked on the next available flight, should be accommodated in a hotel (if needed), and should be given meal vouchers.
If you are flying to/from Europe, there is also a special EU 261 compensation for cancelled or delayed flights as long as they are within the airline’s control. You could be given up to EUR 600 per person per flight cancellation.
Irregular operations are never fun. Airlines hate it and passengers hate it. It is important to remember to stay calm when such situations arise and quickly seek to resolve the issue. Remember to do your part and check flight options that are available to you and proactively provide that to the airline. They will appreciate it and you will be on your way quicker.
Remember to read your rights online and remember them. Airlines may tell you that you wouldn’t be entitled to some compensation where you actually might be. Study the various types of delays and make determinations based on that if the delay or cancellation was the airline’s fault or not (this will determine if your are eligible for compensation and what you can expect if your new flight won’t depart for several more hours).
Hopefully some of these tips will help you the next time you have an irregular operation. Remember to check your options and then provide the best ones available to the airline staff for rebooking. Above all, remain calm and relaxed and everything should go smoothly.