Dealing with a Cancelled Flight

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The two weeks I just spent in South Africa was relaxing, educational and a ton of fun! But unfortunaltey our flight down there was a complete nightmare.

It all started on Dec 29th, the day we were supposed to fly from Toronto, Canada to Johannesburg, South Africa. We were on the plane, buckled in, luggage loaded and waiting to take off. After 40 min of sitting in the docking station, the pilot got on the intercom and announced that our flight had been cancelled because the co-piolet was sick. As soon as I heard the news my heart sank. Not only did this mean that we would miss our connecting flight in London, but also the big family dinner that Tyron’s parents had planned for our arrival.

No one wants to deal with a cancelled flight, but you usually don’t have a choice in the matter, so it is good to know what to do if it ever happens to you. Here is what we did, with some tips on how to handle the situation.

The first thing to do is call the airline. If an airline cancels your flight, it is their responsibility to either put you on another flight, or refund your ticket. You will want to get your phone out and start dialling as soon as possible because soon everyone else on the plane will be doing the same thing, and you want to be first in cue. The airline may reschedule the entire flight for the next day, which may solve your problem if you are on a direct flight. However, if you have a layover, you are most likely going to miss your connecting flight and will need to rebook.

Be wary of co-shared flights. As we discovered, co-shared flights between two airlines can get complicated when there is a cancelation. We were flying on a British Airways (BA) flight, so we immediately called them to rebook. The BA representative told us that even though we were on their plane, we had bought our ticket from American Airlines (AA), who was responsible for helping us since they had our money. But when we called AA, they also claimed there was nothing they could do and said BA was responsible since they had cancelled the flight. With no one taking responsibility, we spent HOURS calling back and forth between the airlines. No one wanted to help us.

Stand up for yourself, and demand help. At this point we were exhausted, cranky, and ready to throw in the towel but we kept at them. Finally, after refusing to get off the phone until we were helped, we spoke with someone at American Airlines who admitted that it was their responsibility to rebook us and offered to help. However, as they browsed through their system, they explained that while they could get us to London, there were no other connecting flights available until Wednesday; three days later than our original arrival date. That would mean missing a quarter of our vacation! Even worse,we had friends and family who had booked vacation time to be with us, as well as a number of different activities and accommodations booked those days. The news was very disappointing.

You may need to ask for a refund. Four days late was not a very good option so we cancelled our ticket and got a refund with the hope of finding another flight that would get us there sooner.

Now here comes the best part. While searching for flights online, we came across a shared American Airlines and SA Airlines flight to Johannesburg via New York, which would deliver us on Monday Dec 31st, only one day later than our original arrival. The big question is, Why couldn’t American Airlines put us on this flight? Was it because the flight cost an extra $1000 and they would have preferred it to come out of our pocket instead of theirs? We are not sure why, but we are the ones who had to pay.

If you feel cheated, put in a complaint to the airline regulating body.

The first step is to complain to the airline and give them a chance to respond. 30 days after submitting your complaint to the airline, if the situation has not been resolved, you can submit a complaint to the airline governing body. In Canada there is the Canadian Transportation Agency , and in the USA you can contact Aviation Consumer Protection.

Contact your travel insurance company for costs incurred by the cancelation & make sure you have trip interruption coverage. 

With our new flight booked for the following day, we had some time to contact our travel insurance. In addition to the extra money spent on the flight ticket, we also spent an extra $200 for a hotel in NY for our new overnight layover and $50 in cab fees.Unfortunately, for this trip I decided to switch from my regular travel insurance provider (World Nomads) and tried CIBC instead because it was less expensive. What I didn’t realize was that it was only medical insurance and did not include trip interruption or cancellation. World Nomads would have been a better deal after all, and I will go back to using them from now on. Tyron also had travel insurance coverage through his work, but discovered that it was also strictly medical coverage. The silver lining to this dark, expensive cloud, was that Tyron’s credit card did provide some coverage, and we were able to get back the cost of the hotel in New York and one of the cab fares. That was a nice surprise!

Don’t Give up, keep picturing that vacation!

At times, it may feel like it would be easier just to give up and stay at home (I know the thought crossed our minds). Suck it up and keep pushing through all of the complications and frustration until you get to your destination. In the end we arrived in South Africa on December 31st, just in time to ring in the New Year. With a view of the mountains, we made our resolutions for 2013 while sipping on red wine at a quite guest house in Clarence, South Africa.. and then promptly went to bed at 12:01 on January 1st. The next morning I woke up relaxed, happy, and ready to begin our South African adventure. It was a very stressful few days in transit, but we made it. And what a fabulous vacation it was!

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Important lessons I learned:

1) Always double check your what your travel insurance policy covers and make sure it includes trip interruption/cancellation.

2) Check to see if you have coverage on your credit card – you may not even know that you do!

2) When travelling for just a few weeks it is tempting to schedule every minute of every day with activities and new destinations. Sometimes, it is a good idea to include a resting day for ‘wiggle room’ if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

3) First instinct is always to book the cheapest flight, but be careful which airline you book with. An extra hundred dollars could save you a hassle in the future.

4) Be wary of co-shared flights. If you do book a co-shared flight, ask who is responsible for rebooking in case of cancellation, BEFORE you fly.

5) Wile it may seem really awful dealing with a cancelled flight in the moment, remember that your hard work will it will all be worth it when you get to your destination.

Stay tuned for happier blogs about what I did and saw in South Africa and Lesotho!

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6 responses to “Dealing with a Cancelled Flight

  1. Plenty of helpful info here Shannon, for those of us who have never had your misfortune, so glad you made it to South Africa anyway, natural splendor of Lesotho and Drakensberg was hopefully adequate compensation!

  2. I flew from Toronto to London on British Airways a couple days before this and didn’t have cancellation/interrupted insurance… eek! I’m glad you made it to SA in one piece and had a great trip even after all this 🙂

  3. Although you had an incredibly frustrating start, it sounds like everyone ended up having a great time in the end. Just think of it as another incident you can write about in a novel some day:)

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