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What can fliers expect in terror-related cancellations?

By Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY

International travelers could have something new to worry about if terrorism alerts ever again force airlines to cancel specific flights as they did over the recent holidays.

Who pays for hotel rooms, meals and other expenses incurred by travelers forced to wait a day or more for a flight out? Will people be automatically rebooked on other airlines?

Some airline spokespeople say their carriers intend to handle such matters on a case-by-case basis without a blanket policy. So what they did for hundreds of passengers recently may not be a model for future decisions. On the other hand, the treatment may be a sign of what travelers can expect if their flight is canceled during the Christmas season.

At least 11 U.S.-bound flights from Europe and Mexico were canceled or delayed around the Christmas and New Year's holidays in response to intelligence reports that said terrorists might use foreign airliners to strike U.S. targets. More disruption could occur any time.

Britain's transportation minister recently told the BBC that he expects similar delays and cancellations for years to come.

Airlines aren't legally obligated to do much for passengers in that situation.

If it's not "an act of God," airlines aren't required to pay for hotels and food, or put passengers on other airlines, says Air France spokeswoman Diane Cornman.

What they must do is get passengers to their final destinations as quickly as possible. Furthermore, government intervention makes a passenger's contract with an airline unenforceable, says San Francisco travel lawyer Al Anolik.

"When the government orders an airline not to fly, you have no rights at that point," Anolik says. "Anything they give you is for promotional purposes, but it is not a mandate or legal requirement."

Air France exceeded its obligations on Christmas Eve when it became the first airline to have holiday flights canceled by terrorism intelligence. When two Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles were canceled at the last minute that day, the airline booked about 400 stranded passengers in the four-star Sofitel Hotel near the Charles de Gaulle airport, Cornman says. It didn't matter whether the passengers were flying on a first-class ticket or economy, she says. The passengers were given dinner and champagne. Air France also put some passengers on other airlines, even those holding cheaper tickets that were not transferable, and some were given refunds, she says.

"Air France was able to give them the best experience they could have at that point," Cornman says. "It was a huge cost to Air France."

When British Airways canceled three flights this month from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles, it put some passengers on other British Airways' flights, including some to Baltimore and Philadelphia, and others on United and Virgin flights, says spokesman John Lampl.

"Our feeling is we may lose a customer on this occasion because of lack of ability to fly them, but we'll get them back because we're doing the best to get the customer to their destination as fast as possible," he says.

Like Air France, British Airways provided hotel rooms and food for a group of passengers that had a particularly trying experience in London. Those 262 passengers sat on a plane for four hours, waiting in vain for authorities to clear the plane for takeoff to New York. The delay forced British Airways to postpone the flight until the next morning so the crew could get rested. The airline sent the passengers and crew to hotels and paid for food before flying them out of London the next morning, Lampl says.

Air France says it won't guarantee it will handle future cases the same way it did during the two cancellations on Christmas Eve. "It has to be handled on a case-by-case basis," Cornman says. Lampl also says there can be no policy because every situation will be different.

When AeroMexico had two Mexico City-Los Angeles flights canceled, the cancellations came early enough in the day so that passengers could fly out on later flights, says spokeswoman Rosalie Huerta.

U.S. airlines say they will probably apply existing policies to handle security-related cancellations if the need arises, although policy could vary depending on the circumstances.

"It's like any cancellation," says Delta spokesman John Kennedy, explaining that Delta would make every effort to re-accommodate every passenger as quickly as possible. Other airlines also said that, should the need arise, they would make sure they get every passenger to their destination, even if it means putting them on another airlines' flight. The Department of Transportation says airlines must offer passengers refunds if they are not flown to their destination, generally within about a day.

"We would, at the very least, follow our non-controllable event protocol, which would include rebooking passengers on other flights, including flights on other airlines if necessary," says Northwest spokeswoman Mary Stanik.

It's not as clear that U.S. airlines would pay for stranded passengers' hotel rooms. Stanik says, "It really would depend on the circumstances."

Northwest offers most passengers discounted hotel rates in cases of delays caused by weather or other circumstances beyond the airline's control, she says.

United might pay for hotel rooms, but if it didn't, passengers would get discounted rates of $40 or $50 a night, says United spokesman Jason Schechter.

International meeting planner Carol Krugman says she thinks she would be more likely to receive preferential treatment if she's a loyal customer or someone who bought a full-fare ticket. "When your flight is canceled, you're in the best situation if you're flying first class," she says.

Preparation could help if passengers find themselves stranded. That's why Krugman always finds out what other flights are available before leaving on a trip, she says. Krugman now encourages clients to plan for a situation such as a security-related cancellation.

Some travel agencies are preparing for more security-related disruption. The rash of recent cancellations prompted corporate travel agency Navigant International to set up internal procedures to assist clients. Navigant's customer service agents receiving calls from clients stranded because of security threats will now forward the calls to the department that deals directly with airlines. That way, Navigant can negotiate on behalf of more than one client at a time.

"We made sure we had something in place should this happen," says Paul Shamon, a vice president at Navigant.

 

Be Prepared

Tips for dealing with unexpected flight cancellations:

Know what alternative flights are available to your destination before you go to the airport.
Know what flights could take you to a nearby city before you travel. The airline might fly you there, then pay for transportation to your original destination.
Bring important telephone numbers, like your travel agent's, in case you need help rebooking your flight on another carrier.
Be persistent. Don't be afraid to mention that you're a frequent flier or first-class or business-class passenger.
Be polite. Remember the cancellation is not the airline employee's fault.

 

 

Find this article at:
http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2004-01-20-cancel_x.htm



 

What can fliers expect in terror-related cancellations?

By Barbara De Lollis, USA TODAY

International travelers could have something new to worry about if terrorism alerts ever again force airlines to cancel specific flights as they did over the recent holidays.

Who pays for hotel rooms, meals and other expenses incurred by travelers forced to wait a day or more for a flight out? Will people be automatically rebooked on other airlines?

Some airline spokespeople say their carriers intend to handle such matters on a case-by-case basis without a blanket policy. So what they did for hundreds of passengers recently may not be a model for future decisions. On the other hand, the treatment may be a sign of what travelers can expect if their flight is canceled during the Christmas season.

At least 11 U.S.-bound flights from Europe and Mexico were canceled or delayed around the Christmas and New Year's holidays in response to intelligence reports that said terrorists might use foreign airliners to strike U.S. targets. More disruption could occur any time.

Britain's transportation minister recently told the BBC that he expects similar delays and cancellations for years to come.

Airlines aren't legally obligated to do much for passengers in that situation.

If it's not "an act of God," airlines aren't required to pay for hotels and food, or put passengers on other airlines, says Air France spokeswoman Diane Cornman.

What they must do is get passengers to their final destinations as quickly as possible. Furthermore, government intervention makes a passenger's contract with an airline unenforceable, says San Francisco travel lawyer Al Anolik.

"When the government orders an airline not to fly, you have no rights at that point," Anolik says. "Anything they give you is for promotional purposes, but it is not a mandate or legal requirement."

Air France exceeded its obligations on Christmas Eve when it became the first airline to have holiday flights canceled by terrorism intelligence. When two Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles were canceled at the last minute that day, the airline booked about 400 stranded passengers in the four-star Sofitel Hotel near the Charles de Gaulle airport, Cornman says. It didn't matter whether the passengers were flying on a first-class ticket or economy, she says. The passengers were given dinner and champagne. Air France also put some passengers on other airlines, even those holding cheaper tickets that were not transferable, and some were given refunds, she says.

"Air France was able to give them the best experience they could have at that point," Cornman says. "It was a huge cost to Air France."

When British Airways canceled three flights this month from London Heathrow to Washington Dulles, it put some passengers on other British Airways' flights, including some to Baltimore and Philadelphia, and others on United and Virgin flights, says spokesman John Lampl.

"Our feeling is we may lose a customer on this occasion because of lack of ability to fly them, but we'll get them back because we're doing the best to get the customer to their destination as fast as possible," he says.

Like Air France, British Airways provided hotel rooms and food for a group of passengers that had a particularly trying experience in London. Those 262 passengers sat on a plane for four hours, waiting in vain for authorities to clear the plane for takeoff to New York. The delay forced British Airways to postpone the flight until the next morning so the crew could get rested. The airline sent the passengers and crew to hotels and paid for food before flying them out of London the next morning, Lampl says.

Air France says it won't guarantee it will handle future cases the same way it did during the two cancellations on Christmas Eve. "It has to be handled on a case-by-case basis," Cornman says. Lampl also says there can be no policy because every situation will be different.

When AeroMexico had two Mexico City-Los Angeles flights canceled, the cancellations came early enough in the day so that passengers could fly out on later flights, says spokeswoman Rosalie Huerta.

U.S. airlines say they will probably apply existing policies to handle security-related cancellations if the need arises, although policy could vary depending on the circumstances.

"It's like any cancellation," says Delta spokesman John Kennedy, explaining that Delta would make every effort to re-accommodate every passenger as quickly as possible. Other airlines also said that, should the need arise, they would make sure they get every passenger to their destination, even if it means putting them on another airlines' flight. The Department of Transportation says airlines must offer passengers refunds if they are not flown to their destination, generally within about a day.

"We would, at the very least, follow our non-controllable event protocol, which would include rebooking passengers on other flights, including flights on other airlines if necessary," says Northwest spokeswoman Mary Stanik.

It's not as clear that U.S. airlines would pay for stranded passengers' hotel rooms. Stanik says, "It really would depend on the circumstances."

Northwest offers most passengers discounted hotel rates in cases of delays caused by weather or other circumstances beyond the airline's control, she says.

United might pay for hotel rooms, but if it didn't, passengers would get discounted rates of $40 or $50 a night, says United spokesman Jason Schechter.

International meeting planner Carol Krugman says she thinks she would be more likely to receive preferential treatment if she's a loyal customer or someone who bought a full-fare ticket. "When your flight is canceled, you're in the best situation if you're flying first class," she says.

Preparation could help if passengers find themselves stranded. That's why Krugman always finds out what other flights are available before leaving on a trip, she says. Krugman now encourages clients to plan for a situation such as a security-related cancellation.

Some travel agencies are preparing for more security-related disruption. The rash of recent cancellations prompted corporate travel agency Navigant International to set up internal procedures to assist clients. Navigant's customer service agents receiving calls from clients stranded because of security threats will now forward the calls to the department that deals directly with airlines. That way, Navigant can negotiate on behalf of more than one client at a time.

"We made sure we had something in place should this happen," says Paul Shamon, a vice president at Navigant.

 

Be Prepared

Tips for dealing with unexpected flight cancellations:

Know what alternative flights are available to your destination before you go to the airport.
Know what flights could take you to a nearby city before you travel. The airline might fly you there, then pay for transportation to your original destination.
Bring important telephone numbers, like your travel agent's, in case you need help rebooking your flight on another carrier.
Be persistent. Don't be afraid to mention that you're a frequent flier or first-class or business-class passenger.
Be polite. Remember the cancellation is not the airline employee's fault.

 

 

Find this article at:
http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2004-01-20-cancel_x.htm