How to deal with cancelled international flights?
December 26, 2010 12:13 AM   Subscribe

The Great Blizzard of Christmas 2010 has severely derailed my plans (love snow as I do). I was supposed to fly from Newark to Hong Kong on Dec. 26th at 3:30, arrive in HK at 8:30pm Dec 27th, then fly Air Asia Hong Kong-Bangkok on the morning of Dec. 28th with a connecting flight immediately following from Bangkok - Luang Prabang, Laos. Newark is supposed to get a foot plus of snow tomorrow. I am feeling a little screwed. Is anyone out there skilled at making the best of this kind of situation? I've never dealt with it before, and have spent the last eight hours trying to make something work. Details below.

I tried calling Continental all afternoon and evening... but was unable to ever get on the queue. They just said call volume was heavy, and to call back later. On their website I saw that changes were free and I could postpone my flight to Dec. 28th (not the 27th) - but their seat map for the 27th flight showed a dozen empty seats in economy. I found another phone number for Continental, and was finally able to get through to a not very nice person. (Can't say that I blame her, working on a holiday with a ton of pissed off people delayed in a snowstorm). At any rate, while I was waiting to go through with her, I realized that I was now not able to book the same nonstop flight on the 28th anymore. There was another flight that day, with a layover I would have been happy to take, and it was going to cost me $580 extra. Um, no thanks.

In the meantime, I have not been able to get in touch with Air Asia at all. Their website was down all day, and their live chat keeps me waiting for about a half an hour then kicks me off. They have no US number, but I tried calling their Australian office hoping to get someone who spoke English well, and got an automated message that the number was not valid.I can change my Bangkok Air flight, but don't know when to change it to as I don't know about Air Asia.

I am now past the 48 hour window for changing Air Asia flights. Since this is not really my fault (they were unreachable) I have disputed the charge with my credit card. I just don't know how to get in touch with them, and I'm not willing to pay international phone charges for two hours of wait time, only to be hung up on (as has happened to several people).

Is there any way I might be able to get on a Continental flight sooner? Or have I screwed myself by changing it to such a late date? I really didn't want to lose three days off of a two week research trip. And any advice about the other flights? Unfortunately, everything was booked separately, by me, on the internet.

Oh, and I'm a Continental OnePass (frequent flyer) member, if that makes any difference, though I just joined so I don't have any miles.

Thanks, hive.
posted by betsbillabong to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Not sure how to edit this - but I just realized I forgot to mention the important fact that I did change my flight (for free) to January 29th, worrying that if I waited till tomorrow (the 26th), I might not be able to get a flight out for a week!
posted by betsbillabong at 12:15 AM on December 26, 2010

Not sure what to say here, it sounds unfortunately like you may be a little screwed, since you're trying to build a flight with connections on three different airlines. This is always a risk/reward proposition; I've almost been burned myself.

One idea that might get you out earlier would be to change the origin airport; United (merged with Continental) has a hub in Washington which is Amtrakable, except for the cab ride to Dulles. Unfortunately, DC is supposed to get 3 inches of snow, and airports that routinely handle snow with heavy snow do better than those who don't get snow, even if it's a light dusting. Others may comment on IAD and snow. Alternately, is there a cheap, early flight today that gets you out of the blizzard (Chicago? LA? SF?) and then continue on?

Can you change the Continental flight to take you all the way to Bangkok rather than Hong Kong? That would give you some certainty on the end, and let you change the Bangkok Air flight. Not sure what would happen with the Air Asia flight.

Does your credit card have travel cancellation insurance?

Skype, which has its' own issues right now, does do 2.6 cents per minute to Malaysia; is that an option?

Good luck!
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:31 AM on December 26, 2010

Best answer: Air Asia answers their tweets - send a message to @AirAsia describing your predicament.
posted by divabat at 1:43 AM on December 26, 2010

Did you book the flights through a third-party site like Orbitz? Orbitz was able to rebook us on an earlier flight than the airline could. Unfortunately that flight has also been canceled.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:14 AM on December 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Yes, booked three separate tickets. Live and learn! It's good to hear that Orbitz did a good job of rebooking - that's useful for the future. Was that this week? Or another time?

A very odd (but welcome) twist to the story is that in desperation I emailed the CEO of Air Asia, which had been recommended online. I didn't think much of it and went to bed.

At 6am, I got a phone call from Air Asia apologizing and rebooking my flight for free! Very nice gesture, though honestly you shouldn't have to know to email the CEO or tweet in order to get service. His email is if that is helpful. I doubt it was really him, though it was sent from his blackberry purportedly. Anyway, the connecting flight was only $100 but still.

I'm still pretty bummed to be losing three whole days of my vacation. Also, we were supposedto be in full blizzard mode by morning, but as of 8:30am, accuweather shows Newark only getting 3" (not even) by 3pm.

Man, I will be sad if today's flight leaves without a hitch. I'm thinking of heading to the airport just to see if I can get on it (but it is 2 1/2 hrs away). I could have really used continental's picking up their phone yesterday to help me through this. Any ideas for getting through to someone who might be willing to help me get on an earlier flight?
posted by betsbillabong at 5:53 AM on December 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

When calling the airline call the number for the Spanish hotline. The wait time is significantly shorter and the operator is usually willing to help out in English.
posted by koselig at 12:14 PM on December 26, 2010

I know it doesn't help much especially as the flight is now in the air and was delayed by 20 minutes, but from my experience the long haul flights are usually not delayed by that much. The airlines know that they make good money off of their long haul flights and they are usually required to fly there to turn around so they can come back. I would have gone with the assumption that the flight was going to go and just been persistant with the airlines if it got delayed.
posted by koolkat at 3:07 PM on December 26, 2010

Oh it is him, he's very social media friendly.
posted by divabat at 11:18 PM on December 26, 2010

Response by poster: Hi everyone,

Thanks for your tips - may come in handy for the future. Especially the tip about the Spanish line.

My flight was actually the last international flight to leave for a couple of days. Arghhh. It could have gone either way. It felt like a bit of an all or nothing gamble to try for it.

Next time if I am booking so many connections separately, I will have travel insurance in case things get cancelled. The snow delay cost me a few hundred dollars.

And good to know that really was the CEO of Air Asia. Hilarious!

I am now happily ensconced in Laos, and it was worth all the stress to get here. It's fabulous and beautiful.

posted by betsbillabong at 6:40 PM on January 2, 2011

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