How to handle upcoming cancellations

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Today, we've blogged about the American Airlines cancellations and the company's explanations. But more cancellations are likely in the months ahead, and not just from American. Through June 30, FAA inspectors will do audits on all U.S. airlines, checking that airplanes are in compliance with a "random sampling" of its rules. Airlines with older planes will be more heavily affected, according to the Associated Press. About a third of our nation's planes are more than 25 years old.

In a separate matter, four airlines are being investigated by the FAA for failing to comply with regulations. Fines may be levied when the investigations end a few months from now, according to the New York Times.

The FAA is under pressure to step up its surveillance after Congressional testimony uncovered what appears to be lax enforcement. The Transportation Department's inspector general said today that the agency's crackdown is long overdue.

What should you do to prepare yourself for possible cancellations? Here are some tips:

--If you bought your ticket online, you've probably signed yourself up automatically for updates from your airline. Be sure to check your email before you leave home for the airport. Make sure you're checking the correct email address, too, if you have supplied the airline with an email address for your secondary Webmail service, which you primarily rely on for online purchases and not your most urgent email.

--Arrive early for your flight! Even if your flight isn't canceled, there's a danger that your seat may be given away to someone who is being re-accommodated from a flight that has, in fact, been canceled.

--Consider signing up for Orbitz's Traveler Update service, in which travelers and experts share the latest news at airports and the best types of responses. (We recently blogged about the service.)

--Print out and bring your airline's contract of carriage with you. Or save a copy on your laptop, assuming that you'll be traveling with one. In the case of long, involuntary flight delays and cancellations, you can refer to the airline's own policies to defend yourself: (In some cases, you may need to download free Adobe Acrobat software to be able to read these contracts.)

AirTran Contract of Carriage

Alaska Airlines Policy

American Airlines Conditions of Carriage

Continental Airlines Contract of Carriage

Delta Airlines Contract of Carriage (subject to change soon, due to possible merger)

Frontier Airlines Contract

Hawaiian Airlines Contract

JetBlue Airways Contract of Carriage

Midwest Airlines Contract

Northwest Airlines Contract

Southwest Airlines Customer Service Agreement

Spirit Airlines Contract of Carriage

United Airlines Contract of Carriage

US Airways Conditions of Contract

Virgin America's Cancellation Rules (For more Virgin America policies, call 877-359-8474.)

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