Screw you Hurricane Irma.
Screw you for the lives you’ve upended. Screw you for destroying some of my favorite islands. And, screw you for messing with my travel plans.
It’s been a chaotic few weeks of weather, and my heart is absolutely sickened. Images and reports of the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey continue to roll in, and it’s still hard for me to grasp just how powerful these storms can actually be. Worse, I can’t imagine what the storm victims are going through right now. My thoughts and prayers go out to each and every one of them.
In the big picture, a disruption in travel plans is absolutely miniscule. I mean, even though our trip to the Dominican Republic had to be cancelled, who really cares? I can always reschedule. Right now, people across the northern Caribbean, Florida, and Texas are having to rebuild their entire lives (and livelihoods). That’s a monumental task, and it’s important to keep that in perspective.
On the other hand, there are still some practical matters that travelers need to deal with. Weather cancellations are fairly common, and – while your flight isn’t likely to be cancelled due to a Category 5 hurricane – you may be wondering what options you have when your travel plans are affected by a weather event.
What to Do If Your Flight Gets Cancelled Because of Bad Weather
If your travel plans have been or are likely to be affected by weather, here are some steps you can take to protect your travel budget.
Watch the Weather Before You Go
Regardless of where you’re traveling, it’s always a good idea to check the weather before you go. Most weather events aren’t going to get major news coverage, but they could still affect your plans. It’s best to be proactive so you have a backup plan in place before you actually need it.
As I mentioned above, we have some very recent history when it comes to cancelling a trip due to weather. Due to leave on Wednesday, it became clear that the eye of the Hurricane Irma would pass near the island on Thursday. No bueno.
Knowing that the storm was coming helped us make decisions even before the airline was ready to cancel. Not only did this put our mind at ease, it kept us from making an unnecessary trip to the airport the day our flight was supposed to leave.
Watch for Destination Specific Weather Alerts from Your Airline
Before you leave the house, check for destination specific weather alerts from your airline. All of the major airlines list travel alerts for specific destinations on their website. Generally, they also include information regarding any options for rescheduling or refunding your money.
Keep in mind, these alerts may not be updated as quickly as you might like. Cancelling flights can cost the airlines millions of dollars, so they don’t take this lightly. If there is a weather event coming, they will often wait until 24 to 48 hours prior to its arrival before making any final cancellation decisions. (Of course, airlines also don’t want a plane worth hundreds of millions to be damaged in a hurricane either… so, try not to stress if a big weather event seems inevitable.)
Research Your Airline’s Cancellation Policy
Each airline has their own cancellation and refund policies. Your options may also be dependent upon the type of travel alert issued and any damage (if any) is expected in the area. For instance, you may be able to reschedule your flight (fee-free) to the same destination, or you may have the opportunity to choose a new destination that is located within so many miles of your original plans. In some instances, you might also get a full or partial refund.
Even if the weather is looking bad, I’d recommend waiting to make changes until the last possible minute – preferably until after the airline officially cancels the flight. If you change your plans before a cancellation is announced, you may have fewer fee-free options. You may even be charged a cancellation fee.
Contact Your Airline
Once you have determined that weather could be a problem, get in contact with your airline. You may be able to handle the communication online, but I think it’s best if you get on the phone with them. By talking to a representative, you’re likely to get the situation resolved faster – although you’ll want to get your new plans sent to you in writing.
If you’re already in transit and you experience a cancellation, try calling customer service to handle the situation. Chances are good that lines at the customer service desk will be long, so hop on the phone while you wait. In many cases, customer service can resolve the situation faster than standing at the ticket counter.
Download Airline Apps
I don’t like having a ton of apps on my phone, but I always make sure to download airline apps before I fly. These apps are fantastic for reporting gate information, delays, and more. (You can usually watch some free movies during your flight too.) Having the app can help you prepare for problems in advance, plus you’ll get the jump on other customers who may be dealing with the same issue.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance
Over the last year, I’ve really come to appreciate having travel insurance. Although we carry it mainly for the overseas medical protections, travel insurance can also help you recover non-reimbursed travel expenses due to weather, illness, and more. This could include costs for airlines, hotels, excursions, and just about any other travel expense you can think of.
Since we travel about once a month, we carry an annual plan through Allianz Travel Insurance. It’s a great policy for heavy travelers. If you only go on one or two trips a year, you can also purchase trip specific policies.
Weather events can really throw a wrench into your travel plans. While the reality on the ground may be tragic, in the event of a weather cancellation, it’s still important to protect your own travel dollars. That way, once the weather clears and the area is back open for business, you can still visit your favorite destinations and pump some dollars back into their recovering economy.
Again, we continue to keep the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey in our thoughts. We promise, we’ll be back to visit soon!
For the rest of you, as always, happy traveling!