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Delays snarl travel after United problems: What to do if your flight is delayed (+video)

A computer snafu grounded nearly five thousand United Airlines flights Wednesday morning. Some ideas on how to handle the delay if you're trying to fly.

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After grounding all United Airline flights for nearly two hours Wednesday morning due to a computer problem, the FAA has lifted its grounding ban of the airline. But the delay will likely cause a massive ripple effect in airports throughout the country, snarling air travel for thousands of passengers.

United said "a network connectivity issue" led to the grounding ban, which affected 4,900 flights worldwide. After United reported its computer problem, the FAA implemented a nationwide ground stop for the airline at 8 a.m., and lifted it at 9:49 a.m. Some commuter flights were allowed to depart for a short interval during the ban.

The delays from United's problem could reach 235 domestic and 138 international destinations, according to reports.

“Although the FAA has lifted the grounding ban on all United Airline flights, the travel disruption that occurred this morning will still cause a massive interruption for business travel,” Mike Kelly of the travel risk management company On Call International, told the Washington Post. “Any time that there is an airline travel issue such as this morning’s, the trickle-down effect that it causes tends to impact business travelers and their employers for days if not weeks afterwards until operations return to normal.”

It is the second time in two months that the carrier has been hit by major technical issues. Earlier this summer, on June 2, United halted all takeoffs in the US, due to what it described as computer automation issues.

The airline has suffered a series of computer issues since it adopted Continental Airlines' passenger information computer system in 2012 after its merger with Continental two years earlier.

Each time United has had computer problems, hundreds of flights have been affected, and this time, the domino affect is projected to impact thousands of flights.

What should you do if your flight has been delayed or cancelled? Consumer advocates offer these suggestions:

Don't get stranded at the airport unnecessarily. Check your flight status before you leave for the airport at the airline's website or check the FAA's flight delay information page. Passengers can also sign up for text alerts from airlines to stay up to date on flight status.

Speak to an agent as soon as possible. "If your flight is delayed, get to a front counter agent as soon as humanly possible and petition to get on an earlier flight or on standby for a plane that’s on the ground and ready to go," writes Amy Webb, head of Webbmedia Group, a digital strategy agency, for Slate. "Do not wait for your airplane to be fixed or wait for an inbound flight to arrive. Just switch." Whether the delay is mechanical, weather-related, or otherwise, it's important to beat the crowd and get on a different flight that is ready to go.

Know your rights. The US Department of Transportation guarantees flyers certain rights, but it's less than most people think. "Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled," the DOT says, adding, "In other words, airline delays and cancellations aren't unusual, and defensive planning is a good idea when time is your most important consideration.” Each airline has different policies, however, and Airfare Watchdog also has a useful guide to passenger rights, according to airline. 

Complain. "Most major airlines have already agreed to waive any additional fees for changing flights during the storm," The Christian Science Monitor reports. "Occasionally, if the delay is long enough, some airlines will give passengers free hotel stays or meal vouchers." If you aren't happy with how your airline is handling the delay or cancellation, file a complaint, preferably with specifics including your flight number, times, and names of people with whom you spoke.

 
 
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