Discussion: Airline trips, flights, cancellations, weather, passenger rights and options

I am supposed to fly to Rome on 31 October (thank you, dear readers).

In light of the terrible weather, can we have some discussion here, based on your experience and good knowledge – please don’t just add anecdotes, but also useful information that is accurate – about travel problems due to weather.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Art says:

    I was supposed to travel to Chicago tomorrow, but due to the weather, had to reschedule my flight to a different day. Major airlines such as United and American are currently waiving ticket reissue charges for the cancelled flights.

  2. Sissy says:

    Below is a helpful link to an article with information about the Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights (the link to the Department of Transportation website is broken). I’ve had two trips to Rome delayed by winter storms. In both cases, I stayed at a hotel close to the airport during the delay, and the airline rescheduled quickly. I’m afraid this particular weather event might make things much more difficult for travelers in or out of NY/NJ. Hopefully, by the 31st it will be sorted out.


  3. yatzer says:

    If your flight is delayed by weather and you miss a connecting flight, you will be out of luck if you needed that particular connecting flight. They will only put you on another airline’s plane if the original airline has absolutely no more flights to your destination that day, even if you are dumped at that destination at midnight or you have missed a second connecting flight althogether.

  4. Charivari Rob says:

    Well, you probably do this already, but just in case… Don’t put anything in your checked bag(s) that you can’t live without for a day or two if your bag has to catch up with you due to connection “issues”. Re-prioritize the contents of your carry-on.

    Assuming that you’re even using a checked bag, of course.

  5. Peter Rother says:

    I assume you are flying Delta as usual. My hope for you is that you are going from MSP through Schiphol, Charles De Gaulle, or Heathrow. If you are, I would not worry too much. The storm is already downgraded and most of the rain will have been dumped by the time you take off. International flights get priority generally so you will leave pretty close to on time. The equipment they use (typically an Airbus 330) is not something they use for intra-US flights so there won’t be a serious shifting around of aircraft with which you need be concerned. If you are connecting through Detroit or Atlanta, I still would not expect a problem. Of course, any connection through the East Coast is a different matter.

    As to practical advice, Charivari Bob is quite correct. Avoid checking baggage. You may need to make a quick decision and need the flexibility. Other tips: study the flight schedule so you know alternative connections and can be your own booking advocate; arrive early for everything because the first ones in line get the best options; and spring the extra money to get admitted to the Delta Sky Club–you can get assistance there where the frequent flyers are treated better and can have some comfort (and an adult beverage) for the longer wait from your early arrival.

    Good luck.

  6. Michelle F says:

    The weather in Charleston, WV (Yeager Airport (CRW)) is okay at the moment (10:30 PM EDST). The only thing we have had so the past 24 hours is light rain and light wind (10 MPH, with gusts up to 16 MPH).

    The airport seems to be open, but their website says that no flights are scheduled to arrive or depart – the airlines have cancelled everything.

    They also say to check with one’s airline to find out about delays and cancellations, and re-booking options.

    So, even though the weather is good enough for flights into and out of Yeager Airport, no one is flying.

    I hope this helps.

  7. Michelle F says:


    One free online service you can try is called FlightAware. It can show you which airports are open, and where planes currently are flying.

    If you click the following link and then keep you mouse cursor off of the map, you can see a relatively current radar image of aircraft flying around the Charleston, WV area with flight identification information:


    The last line of the flight ID information shows the airport of origin followed by the airport of destination.

    Here is a link for FlightAware’s main page, where you can check flights by airline & flight number, or by airport origin and destination:


    I have found this website to be more accurate than others offering the same type of service.

  8. Phil_NL says:

    Had a quick peek at our (only) international airport’s website. Flights from NYC, DC and Phildelphia are cancelled for tomorrow (oct 31st) as well. Flights from more southerly destinations, such as Houston, are running as scheduled. Perhaps there are options to reschedule flights in such a way you depart the US from Texas or Florida?

  9. Phil_NL says:

    NB: don’t forget (as I did for a sec) that flights from the US that arrive here on the 31st, tend to leave the US in the evening of the 30th. Maybe there’s one day respite if you’re leaving the 31st.

  10. ckdexterhaven says:

    This blog has a lot of good tips. Airline crisis survival guide.

  11. NancyP says:

    I don’t usually link to my own work in blog comments, Father, but in this case it’s easier than rewriting what I’ve already written. There are tips for coping with last-minute weather-related cancellations on page 2.


    I will pray for your safety during your travels.

  12. acardnal says:

    Fr. Z, I do hope your travel is not delayed. I am looking forward to reading your reports from the Summorum Pontificum conference in Rome very much! Safe journey.

  13. MWindsor says:

    Hi Fr. Z,

    I have 27 years in the travel business, including three at an airline. Here’s my suggestions.

    First, know where the power lies. In a cancellation or delay situation, the most powerful person on the planet is the guy at the gate. The least powerful is the person on the phone. When in doubt, get in line to talk to the gate agent, while you call someone for help. If you get through the line first, you can hang up on the phone person. If you get through by phone first, do not get out of line but wait in line until they give you a boarding pass or other instructions.

    Second, air travel is penitential. Use it well.

    Third, there is a small group even more powerful than the gate agents in these situations. They are the hyper-experienced and all-powerful agents at the club. I’ve seen them break rules that could never be broken, and create availability on flights where none existed. Those at American have even asked for and gotten another plane when one flight was cancelled (called adding an extra section). I don’t know if Delta does this, but American will allow you to by a “day pass” to the AAdmiral’s Club for $50. If there’s any potential for trouble, this is an investment worth far more than gold.

    Fourth, get accurate information if you can. Why was the flight cancelled? It’s true that the carrier’s responsibilities are lessened by weather related issues, and I’ve seen airlines bend these rules to almost meaninglessness (weather delays for an originating flight with cloudless skys). But in this case, knowledge is power. You can ask for many things because of scheduling issues or crew rest, each of which my be a result of weather. It’s important how they post the delay. If they post a delay for these things and don’t mention weather, then the prospects of Rule 240 come into play.

    Fifth, know what Rule 240 means. Once upon a time, Rule 240 was a tariff rule imposed by federal law. The law has expired, so technically, Rule 240 no longer exists. However, see the first point above. If a gate agent can, they may Rule 240 you to another carrier. (Yes, Rule 240 is used even though it doesn’t exist….airline logic is not like ours.) Rule 240 is the mechanism by which they move you to another airline. When you ask a gate agent about the prospects of a Rule 240 on a delayed flight, you can see their expression change. It means you know the ropes. You can’t go up and demand it, but knowing that it’s an option can help. The phrasing would be something like: “Are there any prospects of a Rule 240 to USAir on this? I have a connection and I really can’t miss the first day of the conference.” [Or somesuch.]

    Sixth, when an airline offers you something, think before you accept. If you take that boarding pass or voucher out of his or her hand, you have by the contract of carriage accepted their offer. It’s sometimes mighty difficult to roll that back. I did that myself once and accepted a re-written ticket from British Airways without looking at it. Turns out, the guy routed me through two stops instead of just one. I had to change it at the connecting city, and the agent wanted me to pay a penalty given that I had already accepted the flight offered in London. To fix that one and many other such problems, I…

    …use humor rather than anger (last point). I’ve had plenty of irate passengers threaten my job – even my life once – and they all eventually got where they were going. But if you can commiserate with the gate agent, or make them laugh a little, you may just find a seat that didn’t exist for the red-faced man before you. It happens all the time. Being in front of 250 angry people and crying babies is not easy – you oftentimes want to crawl under a rock rather than make the announcement of a delay or cancellation.

  14. Cantor says:

    Prior comments are all good, though I’d move MWindsor’s last point up to first: humor is essential. This is the local agents’ worst day, and anything you can do to help out will be appreciated. Aside from that, two specific items:

    1) Do your online check-in at the earliest possible nanosecond. Depending on your frequent flyer status, class of service, etc., this usually ranges from 24-72 hours before the flight. Doing this will help guarantee you a spot on the manifest, but won’t guarantee you get on a plane or off the ground. I’ve been on flights recalled from the taxiway before, so just prepare.

    2) After you’ve checked in, go to Travelocity (or similar sites) and see what other flights show space available for your departure itinerary. You’re not booking them, of course, but checking to see whether there are additional empty seats going where you’re headed. That can give you an idea of how much flexibility the airline might have in getting you on another flight (or airline, as mentioned above). When you find there’s zero alternate availability, be prepared for potentially long delays.

    3) You’re likely better at this one than some of us: Pray!

    Happy travels.

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