Tip for stranded passengers

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If your flight is canceled, get into line to re-book yourself on the next flight out. But be sure to also whip out your cell phone and call the airline on its toll-free number while you wait. You may get through to customer service faster on your phone. (See a PDF list of airline phone numbers.)

Reader Connie Kennedy writes:

In February 2008 my husband and I were scheduled to fly from Chicago (O'Hare) to Miami for a one-week vacation. We managed to leave on the day of a big winter storm and return on the day after a big winter storm. Our flight from Moline, Ill., to Chicago was relatively on time, but O'Hare was a zoo!! Snow, high winds, thousands of people milling about trying to reschedule flights—the typical bad weather Chicago chaos. We could tell that our late afternoon flight to Miami stood a very good chance of being cancelled. So while one of us stood in the line to rebook, the other used toll free reservations line for American Airlines (800/433-7300).

The help line came through, big time. In less than ten minutes, my husband had us on a flight to Atlanta with a connection to Miami, that actually did leave Chicago on time and made it to Miami with minimal delays. On the way back—same thing, different direction. Chicago was snowed in, so we used the 800 number to rebook an alternate flight to Dallas and back to Moline. The lesson of this story? Use the 800 numbers as much as you can. They work 100 percent better than waiting to talk with an overworked and harried gate agent. Our experience with the phone service was so positive that we've programmed it into our cell phones! The other lesson: be flexible about your itinerary. If the flight ends up where you want to go, good for you!

Good for you Connie!

One caveat: Get a local phone number, too, in case the toll-free one won't work overseas.

A word to the wise: If you decide to rebook your flight, be sure to find out the rules and regulations. Some airlines require that you make new reservations immediately, while others will allow you to rebook within a year.

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