With more than 10,000 canceled flights, train and bus travel suspended and driving all but off the table, Hurricane Sandy has brought the U.S. East Coast to a standstill.
Carriers scratched roughly 1,300 flights on Sunday and another 6,814 Monday, according to Daniel Baker of Houston-based FlightAware. At least 2,594 flights for Tuesday are also off, and hundreds if not thousands more cancellations are expected.
The monster storm has left countless travelers across the globe wondering: What do I do now? Here’s a bit of advice.
You should not have to pay any rebooking or change fees as long as you make changes to your itinerary within the carrier’s guidelines. Finding these guidelines, however, can be tricky. Typically, a link will appear in red or orange small print as a travel advisory on the carrier’s homepage.
Families Vs. Solo Travelers
Solo travelers will have a much easier time rebooking flights than small or large families, who may have to wait a few extra days. Airlines have been running at about 80 to 85 percent capacity this fall, leaving little wiggle room for extraordinary events like a hurricane. It may take some time for a family of four or five to get a flight on the same plane together, so you might want to consider splitting into separate groups of two or three.
Know Your Status
If you don’t have any premium or elite status with your airline, consider asking around to see if any of your friends or relatives do. Airlines show preferential treatment for loyal customers, and their status may get you in the front of the line.
Overseas Call Centers
Just about every U.S. carrier that flies outside of North America has an overseas call center. Chances are you’ll get faster service by calling one of the international phone numbers found on the airline’s website than you will calling the domestic line.
Several passengers have reported hours-long wait times to rebook flights over the phone. In most cases, you can use a change code or simply pull up your itinerary and make the changes yourself online without having to talk with a representative on the phone.
Want Your Money Back?
You are entitled to a full refund if your flight is canceled, even if your ticket is “nonrefundable.” If you paid with frequent-flier miles, you should get those redeposited into your account. While all refunds should include any ancillary fees you paid the airline, they will not include any incidentals incurred as a result of the storm (i.e. additional nights at the airport or meals because of the canceled flights).
The best way to stay informed about your flight is to stay glued to Twitter and Facebook as airline representatives offer the latest updates. Another way to get up to the minute information is to sign up for alerts on the airline’s website.
Keep Your Bag
If you’re one of the lucky ones that gets on a flight, chances are you ended up on the right side of a standby list. You can make things a lot easier for the airline (and yourself) by not checking a bag. Having only carry-on items will make it much simpler for the airline to fill its empty seats with you and your family.
Know Your Rights
You may get an email in the coming days telling you that your airline has rebooked you on a flight from, say, Los Angeles to Cleveland to Chicago to New York. You don’t have to accept this roundabout route if it doesn’t work for you. Unfortunately, in this case it’s best if you talk to an actual representative to make sure you find the most desired route at the best possible time.
Other Travel Options
Before you get any ideas, consider this: Amtrak has suspended services along the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, as has nearly every regional rail provider. Greyhound, Bolt Bus, Megabus and others have also suspended services until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest. You may not want to hear it, but the best bet is to stay put and wait out the storm.