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Travel: Lessons Learned From a Flight Cancellation At Heathrow Airport

Have you ever landed at an airport to make your flight connection, only to find out that your connecting flight has been cancelled? After flying all night from Boston to London, I was notified via email by British Airways as I landed at 6:30 a.m. that my connection to Paris was cancelled due to fog. Though there was nothing that I could do to prevent the situation, here are a few things I learned to help you get on the next flight ASAP:

(1) Get in the Customer Service Line ASAP
Très obvious, non? In all seriousness, the quicker you get in the customer service line, the more chances that you’ll get on the next connecting flight. With fewer flights these days, flights tend to be fuller (depending on time of day, of course), so time is definitely of the essence as soon as you find out your flight connection has been cancelled.

(2) Consider Alternative Sources for Booking
If the line at customer service is terrible, also try calling into the 1-800 number for the airline while you are waiting in line and see if you can get a rep to re-book via phone. If you have an iPad or laptop with you, it also doesn’t hurt to see if your airline will allow you to re-book on the website.

(3) Leverage Social Media
In these situations, especially if you’re flying an airline with an active social media presence, I always think it helps to let them know what’s happening. And, not just if your experience is negative. If the crew on the ground does a great job re-booking you, I think that’s worth sharing as well. Given that I was flying British Airways, which is really not responsive on social media (and especially not at 6:30 a.m. haha), it didn’t help me, but it’s always worth a try.

(4) Make Sure Your Bags Make It Onto Your Re-Booked Flight
My biggest fear was that my bags may not make it to my final destination. Make sure that as you’re being re-booked, your bags are re-booked with you. If your bags don’t make it to your final destination, check your airlines policy on when they are required to get them to you and potential compensation for if they don’t.

(5) Try and Exercise Some Patience
As someone with both a customer service and travel industry background, I recommend not screaming and getting mad throughout your interactions with customer service. Instead, keep politely and firmly expressing your disappointment. After all, they’re not responsible for the fog-related weather delay. If you’re traveling for an important business meeting, or family event (e.g. wedding), you should always make that known. Why? There may be more that they can do for you. However, in general, being rational and appealing to the customer service agent’s human side can only help and not hurt. Doing so during this experience helped me to glean some valuable information (see food voucher tip below).

(6) Ask Questions
I also try to ask as many intelligent questions as I can (which, trust me was a struggle on 3 hrs of “sleep” at 6:30 a.m.). Ask why your flight was cancelled, ask what they typically offer passengers in this situation, ask for a list of upcoming flights (and write them down), ask about your bags, ask if they refund seat selection fees during cancellations, etc. etc. Knowledge is power in these situations!

(7) See If You Can Get Some Perks
Even though there’s a 99.9% chance that airlines probably can’t do anything for you, I always try to see what kind of perks I could get for my inconvenience. Why not? It also doesn’t hurt to know your rights in these situations, which vary by airline , by international vs. domestic, and whether it’s the airline’s fault for the cancellation, or mother nature. Googling your rights is also a great way to pass the time while waiting in the customer service line.

In the case of my cancelled flight, I had really wanted a free lounge pass to shower. Naturally, this was not allowed on British Airways, even when I asked to cash in my rewards points for a lounge pass. Note to Airlines: Why wouldn’t you offer this as part of your rewards program?

(8) Ask to Split Food Vouchers
Because I was coming off of an international flight and was now subject to a 5.5 hour layover, British Airways did offer me ten pounds in airport food vouchers. Knowing that I would have to eat both breakfast and lunch in the airport, the customer service agent kindly offered to split my food vouchers into two five pound certificates. Why is this important? Well, when using vouchers, you need to spend it all at one place and in one transaction. And, you know I am spending every cent that they give me. Things like granola bars, fruit, bottled water etc. all keep for awhile and can be enjoyed as snacks later in the day.

(9) Take A Walk
Once you’ve re-booked, I recommend getting to know your surroundings, especially if you’re not familiar with the airport that you’re stranded at. Do they offer lounge access for a fee? Is there a spa, or a gym? Some airports have pretty sweet amenities, like San Francisco, which boasts an art gallery, or West Palm Beach which has a putting green area. Are there any other special amenities that will make your time go by faster? In my case at Heathrow, I window shopped at all of the glamorous designer boutiques, and evaluated my food and power outlet options. It’s also nice to walk around for as long as you can, especially since traveling requires so much sitting around.

(10) Find A Good Spot & Something To Do
Once I walked around for 30 minutes, I hunkered down with a massive coffee and a croissant. During my walk, I had identified an area with power outlets and not a ton of people. So, while charging my computer, I put on some upbeat music and got down to work. Most airports offer pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi, so I figured this was a good use of my time, because I would only get more tired as the day went on.

Final Thought

All in all, I eventually made it to Paris….as it was getting dark (boo hoo). I had hoped to spend the afternoon exploring the area in St. Germain around my hotel, but instead I found the closest market and snagged some yogurt (French yogurt is seriously the best), fruit and a baguette. And then, I got some much-needed sleep!