This Is the First Thing You Should Do If Your Flight Is Canceled or Diverted
...even if the cause is bad weather.
As the snow falls and the temperatures drop down the entire East Coast, thousands of people have found themselves stranded by their airlines. Some of those people are trapped in airports around the country, while others have found themselves diverted to out of the way airports miles from their intended destinations.
It's a frustrating process to say the least, but what should you really do if you find out your flight was canceled or you're diverted to some obscure spot?
The first, and perhaps most important thing to do is be prepared even before you step foot on the airplane. This means making sure you leave enough time in your travel itinerary if you need to reach a connecting flight or be at your destination for an important event.
Next, it's crucial for you to understand your rights as a passenger. And this, TripSavvy pointed out, comes down to understanding your "contract of carriage." This refers to what each carrier will or will not do if your flight is canceled, delayed, or diverted, as each and every carrier says something different.
As an example, American Airlines states in its contract that "When your flight is canceled or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we will rebook you on our next flight with available seats. If the delay or cancellation was caused by events within our control or you were diverted to another city, and we don't board to your final destination before 11:59 p.m. local time, we'll arrange an overnight stay at your connecting airport, if available." The contract adds, "In extreme circumstances, a flight may cancel while on the ground in the city it was diverted to. If this happens we will rebook you on our next flight with available seats, on another airline or some other alternative means of transportation. If we are unable to rebook you, we'll arrange an overnight stay, if available."
TL; DR: The airline will likely pay for your hotel if your flight is diverted and you're stranded overnight.
Southwest, on the other hand, just states, "In the event Carrier diverts any flight, Carrier, at its sole discretion, will take reasonable steps to transport Passenger to his final destination or to provide reasonable accommodations." What constitutes reasonable accommodations may be up to them.
Next, if you then find that your flight is actually diverted or canceled, it's crucial to remain calm. You will get nowhere by yelling at the gate staff. Instead, first contact family or friends who may be waiting for you at your destination airport. Next, contact your airline via phone or social media (many airlines have rapid response teams for Twitter and Facebook). Next, stay near your gate in case agents share information.
Once you do land in your destination, make sure to follow up with the airline about your experience. They may owe you money, again depending on what your airline's contract says, and even if they don't, they may offer you travel vouchers for future trips just to keep you happy. It's always worth a shot.