You’re doing it wrong when your flight is cancelled: you’re following directions and wait in the nearest customer service line. There are three tricks that are usually far more effective: calling the airline directly, going to the gate of the next flight, and finding a different customer service counter.
The reason waiting in line is such a bad idea is that everyone else is doing the same thing. The result is lines—sometimes hours long—waiting to get rebooked. And while the first few people in line might get put on convenient flights, those flights will quickly fill up, leaving everyone else with worse options to get where they’re going.
Alternative #1: Call the airline
Someone will usually answer the phone in a fraction of the time you would have spent waiting in line. Tell them your situation (reading them your confirmation number from your boarding pass), and ask for their help.
Hip-tip: If your flight is cancelled after you’ve already gotten on the plane—for example, because of a mechanical problem—call the airline right away! You’ll be on the phone with them minutes before everyone else leaves the plane and starts to line up, so you’ll have first dibs on being rebooked onto a convenient flight.
Alternative #2: Go to the next flight’s gate
If there’s a flight leaving for the same place you’re going, go to that gate and see if there’s space for you. If the flight is full, ask to be put on the “standby” list—you’ll get a chance to board that flight if somebody else fails to show up, and if the plane stay’s full you’ll already be on the waiting list for the flight after.
Hip-tip: This works especially well when you’re at a “hub” airport for a major airline and headed to a major city—for example, you’re stuck in Chicago on American Airlines and headed to New York. Then there will likely be a flight to where you’re going within a couple hours. You may even be able to find a flight sooner, if you’re willing to fly into a nearby-but-different airport.
Alternative #3: Find a different line to wait in
Many airlines have multiple customer service lines in different places. Instead of following the herd, try out a line further away—perhaps even in a different terminal—for the same airline.
Hip-tip:If all the lines are full, and there are no flights going where you want for a couple hours, exit security. Ask for help at the check-in desks—they’re often better staffed and less harried than the customer service lines past security. (You’ll of course have to re-clear security to board your new flight.)
Final tip: No matter what, you’ll always have an easier time getting rebooked if you haven’t checked any bags.