A cancelled flight can play havoc with your travel plans. It can also mean you have to hang around the airport for additional hours or even have to find somewhere to spend the night until you’re put on a new flight.
The key thing is to always stay in contact with your airline, know your conditions of carriage as well check what coverage your travel insurance guarantees you if any.
Some airlines give you the option of receiving flight alerts via SMS, or you can go onto their website to check the status of your flight as well as follow their various social media accounts, including that of the airport you're visiting.
Watch the weather:
If you’re flying during periods when you know the weather might be a problem, keep an eye on forecasts in the couple of days before you travel. If things look hairy, be aware that your flight could be affected and prepare for that eventuality by packing a set of fresh clothes plus some distractions (reading matter or games, for instance) into your hand luggage.
Take actual action:
If your flight is cancelled, you’re basically in the hands of the airline and most airlines try their best to get you on the next available flight to your destination, even if it isn’t on one of their planes. This applies to your checked baggage too – travel agents advise that airlines will do its best to make sure it ends up on the same new flight that you do.
If your flight was booked through an agent, you can phone the agent and leave it to them to find out what’s going on and advise you on what your next steps will be, including any new flights.
Otherwise, go ahead and take action yourself: get in line at the desk to sort out a new flight – but at the same time, use your cellphone to phone the airline’s customer service centre. Then deal with whomever gets to you first.
Social media has made it possible to talk to the authorities concerned directly. Go online to see if you can rebook your ticket electronically.
Schedule changes - Know your airline's conditions of carriage:
In most 'conditions of carriage' airlines stipulate that, provided the passenger provides thorough contact details, they will try to communicate any schedule changes as soon as they are aware of them.
However, no promises are made in this regard and passengers may reach the airport only to receive the unhappy news.
The remedies for the inconvenience differ from airline to airline and, as you can imagine, offering a refund is their very last resort.
British Airways and Kulula's contract states that they will only provide a refund for passengers put out by a schedule change in the following case: if after you bought a ticket they make a significant change to the departure time of your flight (significant is anything more than three hours), you find it unacceptable and they (or an authorized agent) cannot book you on a flight you are prepared to accept.
SAA and Mango state the following: "If, after you purchase your Ticket, we make a significant change to the scheduled flight time, which is not acceptable to you, and we are unable to book you on an alternative flight which is acceptable to you, you will be entitled to a refund."
The refund is only paid if the following conditions apply: SAA/Mango cancels a flight, fails to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, fails to stop at your destination or stopover, or causes you to miss a connecting flight on which you hold a reservation.
In the latter case, if a portion of the ticket has been used, the refund will be the difference between the fare paid and the applicable fare for travel between the points for which the ticket had been used.
Delays, cancellations and rerouting:
While delays, cancellations and rerouting may form part of schedule changes, most airlines have a separate clause in their contract of carriage, stipulating their stance on these.
SAA, Mango, BA and Kulula
have very similar policies where these are concerned.
While these airlines do clearly state that they will endeavour to avoid delay in carrying you and your baggage, the chance always exists that this will happen.
In this case, the airlines mentioned above offer a choice of three different remedies:
1. they will carry you at the earliest opportunity on another of their scheduled services with space available without additional charge
2. re-route you within reasonable time to the destination shown on your ticket either using their own services or that of another carrier
3. make a refund in accordance with the conditions mentioned in the above section on schedule changes.
While it may seem like a bit of a schlep at the time, make sure you're familiar with your rights regarding schedule changes, delays, cancellations and rerouting before purchasing a ticket with an airline. Most airlines have "conditions of carriage" document on their websites, so go check it out.
Kill time the usual way:
The hours can seem to stretch emptily ahead of you if you’re waiting at an airport to be put on another flight. Make sure you’ve got a book or magazine in your hand luggage, and that your laptop, smartphone or MP3 player is fully charged. If you end up with nothing to read or listen to, and you’re in a bigger airport that has shops and spas, go window shopping or (if you’ve got the bucks) get a back, foot or facial massage. If all else fails, strike up a conversation with your fellow stranded passengers – who knows, you could make a new friend.
Kill time the unusual way:
• Stretch. If you don’t mind a few funny looks, a mini-workout not only uses up time but is also good for you. If that takes you too far out of your comfort zone, find a quiet corner and meditate for a while.
• See the sights. If you’ve got the time and the transport, leave the airport and explore the surrounds. But allow plenty of time for traffic jams and queues that may gobble up precious minutes.
• Catch a few Zs. Not everyone likes sleeping in airports, but if you’re one of the lucky ones who can drop off anywhere, set your phone to wake you up in a couple of hours, stretch out (if you’re in an airport that provides loungers) and snooze. If the thought of sleeping in public horrifies you, find out what it will cost to stay over at the nearest airport lodge – sometimes it’s surprisingly cheap for what you get (a shower, a bed and transport to and fro, for instance). Some airlines do compensate delayed passengers for meals and accommodation.
• Have a meal. Use the time to have a leisurely meal, even if it’s at a less-than-gourmet chain – it’ll still make a nice change from grabbing a burger to go.
• Play a game. Pack travel Scrabble or Backgammon and play it with your travel companion or, if you’re flying solo, challenge a fellow passenger to a game.
• Strum your guitar. If you’re travelling with a musical instrument, and you’re not crowd-shy, you could entertain yourself and others with an impromptu one-man concert.
Do you get your money back?
Different airlines have varying policies regarding compensation for cancelled or delayed flights, including for the ticket itself, and additional costs like meals and accommodation – enquire about this when you book your ticket.