'The airline can't save you': Experts say travelers must now get savvier, have backup plans before they fly
In the wake of this week's unprecedented wave of U.S. flight cancellations, experts and passengers alike are weighing in on how flyers can better prepare for a
In the wake of this week's unprecedented wave of U.S. flight cancellations, experts and passengers alike are weighing in on how flyers can better prepare for a disrupted itinerary.
While multiple explanations have been put forward to explain the chaos that stranded thousands of passengers in the last few days — the majority of which was led by Southwest Airlines and included weather, staffing, and technology issues — there should be one key takeaway, experts say: Flyers can no longer rely on their airline when something goes awry, and instead should have the savvy and, where possible, the financial resources — to take matters into their own hands.
"The days are gone when you could just take off without a backup plan," said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and spokeswoman for FlightAware, a company that provides flight-tracking services.
First, all travelers should download their airline's digital app, or get familiar with sites like Google Flights, in the event they must look for an alternative flight, she said. Some airlines, including Southwest, no longer have automatic agreements in place that allow for rebooking on another airline free of charge, she said.
And because of consolidation within the industry, there are fewer planes flying overall, leaving many passengers with generally fewer options, said Scott Mayerowitz, the executive editor of The Points Guy travel site. All the more important, then, to know how to quickly look up alternatives in a pinch.
The image of seemingly endless lines of passengers waiting to speak with a rebooking agent should also cement the idea that air passengers must be the masters of their own fate, and can do so through a mobile device.
Rebooking online saved passenger Ryan Mitchell. He and his family spent Christmas in Austin, Texas, and intended to fly home to Raleigh, North Carolina, on Dec. 26 via Southwest. When their flight got canceled, he decided to drive to the airport to rebook after not being able to reach a Southwest representative by phone — not realizing a nationwide fiasco was unfolding.
By the time he got to the airport around noon, he said in an email, "there was a line a thousand people long."
Immediately, Mitchell said, he started looking on his phone for other options besides Southwest. He was able to find one on another airline for $350 leaving the same day.
"Bought it as fast as I could," he said. "Checked prices a few hours later ... anything leaving Monday or Tuesday was in the thousands of dollars."
On Thursday, Southwest said customers affected by flight cancellations or significant flight delays from last Saturday and next Tuesday can submit receipts for consideration via email or on Southwest.com. It also posted a link to a refund request form.
Southwest executives said Thursday that anyone whose flight was cancelled is entitled to a full refund and that the airline would reimburse travel expenses, including tickets on other carriers, rental cars, gas, hotels and meals. Southwest will look at extenuating circumstances case by case. And it will pay for baggage to be shipped to the customer by FedEx or UPS or, in some cases, on a Southwest aircraft.