Canceled Flights: How To Handle Flight Cancellations As COVID-Linked Crew Shortages Leave Thousands Stranded

NEW YORK – An increase in cancellations during peak holiday travel season has left thousands of passengers across the country stranded in airport lounges as they attempt to return home.

Airlines officials said the recent spike in omicron COVID-19 cases has left flight crews immobilized and, as a result, they don’t have enough people to make their scheduled flights.

Although such a situation is difficult to predict, travel experts say affected passengers still have options to reach their destination or, in the worst case, end their extended stay with as little hassle as possible.

“It’s frustrating for travelers, but there’s not much they can do about it,” Brett Snyder, president of Cranky Concierge travel planning, told ABC News.

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Snyder said the most important thing for passengers to do is to be aware of their airline and the status of their flight. Affected airlines have updated their information to customers and airport agents as soon as they know a cancellation is imminent, but if any of them are at the top of their flight early, they have more time to determine its next steps, Snyder said.

“Speed ​​is your friend,” he said. “If you could skip the wait at the airport and make your arrangements earlier, you would be better off.”

Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told ABC News that if a flight is canceled after you arrive at the airport, there are plenty of options for getting another flight quickly.

Keyes said it was important to get to the ticket agent queue quickly, as available seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. He advised passengers to also contact their airline’s customer service while in line, so they can arrange another flight.

Keyes said some stranded passengers may have success calling the airline’s international call centers instead of the United States.

“You can call any of these alternative centers and connect with an agent who will handle your reservation the same way an American agent does,” he told ABC News.

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Keyes noted that the current number of cancellations by airlines is around 5% of their flights, so there’s a good chance a stranded passenger could get another flight to their destination soon, even if that includes connecting flights. He added that passenger cancellations, like those of people who need to be quarantined, also open the possibility of waiting stations.

Snyder said major airlines have agreements with each other and may offer passengers flights to destinations with another carrier.

“You can always get your money back and buy another ticket with that money,” he said. “Just know what your airline’s refund policies are, as some may not refund you for a few hours after cancellation.”

In the worst-case scenario, where a passenger has to wait a long time for the next flight, travel experts say there are options to accommodate a passenger’s extended stay.

Most airlines will offer a voucher for food and hotel, and others will request a voucher from a passenger whose flight is canceled. Keyes stressed that not all airlines will offer it voluntarily.

“It never hurts to ask. Make sure you make this request proactively,” he said. “They are not required by federal law to house you, but most of the time they will be able to.”

Keyes said some credit card companies offer travel protections for canceled flights that have been booked on the card.

“Being able to get reimbursed for that hotel room is more preferable than paying out of pocket,” he said.

Snyder said air passengers should also seek other forms of credit and reimbursement from airlines. In the past, during massive cancellation events, airlines offered credit for a future flight or loyalty miles.

“We have seen airlines do this when they have abnormal collapses,” he said.

Snyder and Keyes both said there would likely be more cancellations due to omicron-related staff shortages as the recent surge continues, and passengers preparing to fly for next month should be prepared for this to happen.

Both stressed that this is an uncertain time and that the best way to overcome any sudden cancellations is to remain calm and calm when speaking with airline agents or other staff.

“These agents have dealt with thousands and thousands of disgruntled and angry travelers and they have done so ruthlessly throughout the pandemic,” Keyes said. “It’s not their fault that the flight is canceled and if you can treat them with kindness, it will often go too far in their willingness to help you.”

ABC News’ Mina Kaji contributed to this report.

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