Massive winter storm in northern US impacts SWFL travelers

Author: CBS NEWS
Published: Updated:
Vehicles drive in downtown Minneapolis as snow falls on Feb. 21, 2023. (ABBIE PARR / AP)

Brutal winter weather bringing snow, dangerous gusts of wind and bitter cold settled over much of the northern U.S. on Wednesday, shutting down roadways, closing schools and businesses and prompting dire warnings for people to stay home.

In Southwest Florida, the storms up north are already impacting travel. On Wednesday, about a dozen flights from Southwest Florida International Airport were cancelled.

The U.S Department of Transprotation says if your flight never takes off and you decide not to travel, you are entitled to a full refund, including the cost of upgrades and baggage.

If you are trying to find a new flight, it is recommeded that you get in line to speak with an airline agent while also trying to rebook your flight online. If you are traveling with another person, you should have them call the airline as well to increase your chances of getting a new flight.

If you find yourself with a canceled flight, staying calm โ€” and knowing your rights โ€” can go a long way, experts say. Here’s some of their advice for dealing with a flight cancellation.

My flight was canceled. What next?

If you still want to get to your destination, most airlines will rebook you for free on the next available flight as long as it has seats, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If you want to cancel the trip, you are entitled to a full refund, even if you bought non-refundable tickets. You’re also entitled to a refund of any bag fees, seat upgrades or other extras.

Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline executive, stressed that travelers are eligible for a refund, not just vouchers for future travel. If you do take a voucher, make sure you inquire about blackout dates and other restrictions on its use.

Will I have to pay a change fee if I rebook my flights?

Major airlines โ€” including Delta, American, Southwest, Air Canada, Alaska, Frontier and Spirit โ€” are waiving change fees during the storm, which gives travelers more flexibility as they shift their plans. But Ebenhoch said travelers should read the fine print carefully. If you book a return flight outside the window that the airline sets, you may have to pay for the difference in fares, for example.

Even if you aren’t being offered a storm waiver, experts note that airlines are required to refund your flight if it’s canceled or significantly delayed.

Can I ask to be rebooked on another airline’s flight?

Yes. Airlines aren’t required to put you on another airline’s flight, but they can, and sometimes do, according to the DOT. Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, recommends researching alternate flights while you’re waiting to talk to an agent. Agents are typically under a lot of pressure when a flight is canceled, so giving them some options helps.

Ebenhoch also suggests looking for alternative airports that are close to your original destination.

Is the airline required to give me a hotel room or other compensation?

No. Each airline has its own policies about providing for customers whose flights are canceled, according to the DOT. But many airlines do offer accommodations, so you should check with their staff.

I’m facing a long wait to rebook. What should I do?

If someone in your traveling party is at a higher level in a frequent-flier program, use the number reserved for that level to call the airline, Ebenhoch said. You can also try calling an international help desk for the airline, since those agents have the ability to make changes.

“American, Delta, United, they’ve all got offices around the world,” Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told CBS News recently. “You can call any one of those international offices and get through to an agent who can help get you rebooked, just the same as a U.S.-based agent can but with a fraction of the wait time that you’d be facing if you called the main U.S. hotline.”

How can I avoid this in the future?

Ebenhoch said nonstop flights and morning flights are generally the most reliable if you can book them. If you’re worried about making it to the airport in time for a morning flight, he said, consider staying at a hotel connected to the airport the night before. And consider flying outside of busy dates; this year, the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration is expecting big crowds on Dec. 30, for example.

Klee recommends comparing airlines’ policies on the DOT’s service dashboard. He also suggests reserving multiple flights and then canceling the ones you don’t use, as long as the airline will refund your money or convert it into a credit for a future flight.


WINK News contributed to this report.

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