As we move deeper into winter, air travelers will face more weather-related cancellations and delays. In some cases, the alternatives offered by the airlines are bad enough to make us drive, take the train — or cancel the trip.
Here’s what happened to one of my clients: A seasoned traveler, he arrived into Dulles on Dec. 19 to find his flight from Washington to Burlington, Vermont canceled. And United could offer him nothing else for two days — with, of course, no guarantee that the weather would improve. Since he wanted to be home for the holidays, he decided to rent a car and make the 500 mile drive.
So far so good. But when he innocently queried me later in his vacation to see about a refund for the canceled flight, I discovered something else. United had not cancelled the flight in his record, and had canceled his return ticket.
About an hour later, after talking to a few reservation agents and explaining the situation, the ticket was reinstated. Had he showed up at the airport, however, there’s no telling if they would have fixed it in time for him to get on the flight.
The issue here is that over-worked gate agents may or may not cancel a delayed or cancelled flight out of your record, even if you tell them you are not going to wait for plan B. And while one might think that a computer would record if a flight is cancelled, this is not always the case. (The reservation agent at United I spoke to originally insisted that because the flight still showed in the computer, that my client had just decided not to take the connection.)
This kind of problem thankfully doesn’t happen with every canceled flight or flight change. But it’s best to be proactive. If possible make sure the airline knows if you make alternate arrangements, and ask them to cancel the canceled or delayed flight from your record. Or call your travel agent and have them do it. If that’s not possible, check within the next couple of days to be sure your remaining flights and ticket are intact.
And this same advice applies with a near-miss. Another client actually took both outbound flights, but a delay on the first flight meant he barely made his connection in Newark, and Continental canceled his return flights as a no-show with no notice or message until he tried to check in for his return. Fortunately, a reservation agent grudgingly rebooked him when I told her I absolutely knew his mother, a longtime client, had picked her son up at the airport.
Even if the potential problem is only with the return portion of your ticket it’s not a bad idea to check that a flight is correctly canceled, because if the airline lists you as a no-show, it decreases your chances for a future refund.
And yes, the airlines should be able to update their own records to avoid this sort of mess. But on chaotic travel days, and with reduced staffing levels, an old axiom I learned in Florida probably says it best – “When you are up to your a** in alligators, it is difficult to remember your original intention was to clean the swamp.”