Flying long distances with young kids, whether cross-country or abroad, is no easy feat. Between security checkpoints, the umpteenth diaper change, and keeping your kids occupied and fed for hours on end, traveling with young kids could qualify as an Olympic sport for many parents. And that’s before you see those dreaded words flashing on the nearest airport departure board: “flight cancelled.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 100,000 flights were cancelled in 2011, affecting 7.5 million passengers. And the demand for air travel is only increasing.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to getting you and your family on the next plane out of dodge, and how to prevent a headache or two in the process.
Reschedule your flight as soon as possible. Don’t assume the airline will automatically rebook your ticket. Head to the nearest ticket counter, and while waiting in line, try to reschedule your flight using your Wi-Fi-enabled smart phone or tablet. If you’re traveling alone with the kids, ask an airline agent about expedited assistance for families with small children. Be polite and assertive. It never hurts to ask!
Think ahead about your family’s needs. How many meals will your family require until your rescheduled flight? What about snacks and extra diapers? Discuss your needs with the ticketing agent, who should be able to provide meal vouchers for the airport. Some airlines also provide free diapers and baby food to stranded passengers. Be sure to save all receipts for any expenses you incur.
If you require overnight accommodation, ask an airline agent for details. Does the airline provide hotel vouchers or do you have to pay upfront and submit a receipt later? If so, what is the airline’s maximum reimbursement amount?
Although airlines are not required to cover hotel costs for events such as inclement weather or traffic control issues, confirm this with an agent. You never know, you might get a hotel voucher just for asking politely.
Review your updated flight information. Before you leave the ticket counter, check your boarding passes and itinerary. Are you booked on the correct flight? Does everyone in your family have a seat? Reviewing the details will save you a headache down the road if the agent makes a mistake during the ticketing process.
Book your family’s hotel room. Once you have tickets in hand and a plan for your family’s meals and other items, it’s time to secure overnight accommodation, should you require it. Unfortunately, penny-pinching airlines often recommend hotels located thirty minutes or more from the airport, adding to your family’s inconvenience.
Use your smart phone or tablet to book an alternative hotel as close to the airport as possible, or ask airport services for hotel suggestions. Make sure the nightly rate is within the reimbursement amount the airline agent earlier quoted you. Or pay the difference, if you don’t mind footing some of the bill.
Follow up. Once you’re back home safe and sound, visit the airline’s website to submit electronic copies of your receipts and provide feedback about your experience. Offer details about staff members who were particularly kind or helpful.
Most airlines will offer some sort of compensation for your inconvenience, such as credit in a rewards program or vouchers for future travel.
Flying long-distances with your little ones is challenging, to say the least, especially when your flight gets cancelled. Next time, though, you’ll know just how to get you and your family to your destination and back on track.
Top Things to Consider When Your Flight is Cancelled
Your Family’s Needs
-How many meals will your family need before your rescheduled flight?
-Do you have plenty of snacks, baby food, and diapers?
-Does the airline provide overnight accommodation? If so, do they offer a hotel voucher or do you have to pay yourself and submit the receipt?
-What is the airline’s maximum reimbursement amount for a hotel stay?
-Which affordable hotel options are closest to the airport? Does the hotel offer airport shuttle service?
Your Rescheduled Flight
-Are you booked on the correct flight?
-Does each family member have a seat? Are the seats located next to each other or in different rows?
After the Flight
-Did you submit all expense receipts via the airline website? Will you provide feedback to the airline about your experience?
-Did the airline respond with any offers of compensation for your inconvenience?
Before Your Trip
Avoid booking flights with partnering airlines. If possible, try to travel with one airline carrier for the entire flight, including any connections. This helps avoid reticketing issues, should one leg of your flight get cancelled.
Confirm your flight. Up to a week in advance, contact the airline to confirm your itinerary and other details, or visit the airline website. Seating assignments sometimes change without notice, especially for long-distance flights on large aircraft.
Pack wisely. Bring medicines, extra diapers, your cell phone charger and iPad/tablet charger, a change of clothes for each family member, and any items that will help soothe young children during an unexpected overnight stay, such as a favorite toy or small blanket.
Heather Van Deest is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons.