What to do if your holiday travel plans hit unexpected turbulence

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Published: Updated:

The end of the year is the busiest time for airports. Everyone is trying to make it home for the holidays and a lot can go wrong with flights.

A week-long getaway to Nantucket became a travel nightmare for Robert Myers months before his flight even got off the ground.

Myers reviewing his flight itinerary
Myers reviewing his flight itinerary, CREDIT: WINK News

“There should be a better way than to just say ‘tough luck,'” Roberts said of his experience.

In August, he booked a round trip JetBlue flight from Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) to Nantucket (ACK) for his October vacation. He booked it all with points. There was a layover in New York (JFK and LGA) each way. About a week later, he got an email from the airline to give them a call.

“They told me that [the return] flight from Nantucket to LaGuardia had been canceled,” Myers explained. “They said it was not rebookable because that was the only JetBlue flight leaving Nantucket that made a Fort Myers connection, so I said, ‘Well, what are my options?'”

Myers' flight itinerary
Myers’ flight itinerary, CREDIT: WINK News

Myers said JetBlue told him he could either cancel his entire trip and JetBlue would refund him, so he could book his flights on another airline OR he could get on a JetBlue flight from a nearby airport. Myers decided to keep his JetBlue reservation and fly out of Boston back to Fort Myers. Since Nantucket is an island, he had to book another flight on a different airline from Nantucket to Boston for $270. Myers is upset JetBlue would not reimburse him for the extra flight he had to buy.

“There ought to be a better way to obtain better customer satisfaction than what they did, which was nothing,” Myers said in frustration. “They just said, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.'”

WINK News Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard asked JetBlue if there was anything else the airline could do.

A spokesperson wrote in a statement:

“While not frequent, when schedule changes occur, we do our best to minimize impacts to our customers’ travel plans and inform them early, so they are aware and empowered to book alternate itineraries. 

In this case, our records show we informed our customer around 2 months before their scheduled travel that their return flight would no longer be possible, as a connection at LaGuardia Airport would be missed due to a schedule change.  When these rare situations occur, we give our customers the option to look for other travel and cancel their JetBlue flights for a full refund. They may also select a JetBlue flight from another regional airport.  In this case, the customer chose a JetBlue flight from Boston to Fort Myers for their return travel. In addition, as an apology for the inconvenience, we’ve provided the customer $50 in future travel credit and a refund of $60 in fees.”

canceled flights at LAX
Travelers wait at a Southwest Airlines baggage counter to retrieve their bags after canceled flights at Los Angeles International Airport, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)

According to the United States Department of Transportation, airlines are only “required to refund passengers when an airline cancels or significantly changes a flight and passengers do not accept alternative transportation.”

In 2022, AAA found 4.5 millions Americans flew for Thanksgiving. Another 7 million flew home for the holidays. US DOT data shows nearly 38,000 flights were canceled in November and December 2022. Even more people are expected to fly for both holidays this year, leaving plenty of opportunity for airlines to throw a wrench into your smooth travel plans.

Tips for flight cancellations and delays

NerdWallet’s Travel Expert Sally French recommends that you jump in line to speak with a gate agent and call the airline on the phone at the same time if your flight is canceled while you’re already at the airport. Some airlines will let you change flights on their apps as well. This will give you the best chance of getting on the next available flight.

“If you don’t want to take that flight, if you just cancel it because the airline canceled your flight, you are entitled to a full refund assuming you don’t accept an offer to take another flight,” French added.

flight delays
Flight delays at RSW, CREDIT: WINK News

A number of airlines will also give you vouchers if your flight is delayed longer than three hours.

“Most airlines won’t offer upfront things like flight vouchers or meal vouchers,” French continued. “But often, if you go to the customer service desk and you’re polite, there’s a chance that that customer service person may try to help you out and give you some sort of compensation.”

Luggage and bags can bring problems as well.

“If you can pack light, result to just a carry on, you reduce that factor of your luggage getting lost,” recommends French. “But also, if you need to change plans quickly, you don’t need to worry about where your luggage is because it is with you.”

If you have to check your bags and they show up in baggage claim damaged, the US DOT said airlines will usually pay to those bags fix. If they can’t be, they’ll negotiate with you to pay for the depreciated value. The same applies to anything inside your luggage that is damaged as a result.

Baggage claim after a flight

Myers wishes JetBlue did more, like pay for his flight on the other airline, but he’ll take the baggage refund and flight credits.

“I just got the sense like it was, ‘well, tough luck. We’re sorry,'” Myers said.

U.S. Department of Transportation resources

As a result of all of the hiccups flyers experienced with flight cancellations and delays post-pandemic, the U.S. DOT now has the Airline Customer Service Dashboard. If shows what airlines will and won’t do if your flight is delayed. The U.S. DOT wrote in a statement to WINK News Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard, “The department will hold airlines accountable if they fail to adhere to their obligations.”

The U.S. DOT also wrote:

“DOT is actively working on various actions to improve protection for airline passengers. DOT has issued a rulemaking that would significantly strengthen protections for consumers seeking refunds for airline tickets, including, if adopted in final as proposed, require travel credits or vouchers to non-refundable ticket holders who are unable to travel for reasons related to communicable disease. Also, for the first time in U.S. history, DOT has initiated a rulemaking that would, if adopted in final, require airlines to compensate passengers and cover certain expenses for controllable delays and cancellations.”

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