TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) —For the second time in a matter of weeks, a major airline is scrambling to get back on track after canceling hundreds of flights.
American Airlines canceled more than 1,800 flights this weekend, and those problems continued into Monday.
“It was extremely stressful; it was horrible,” said Keith and Mary Ehmann about their experience at Tampa International Airport Sunday.
They said they spent 11 hours at the airport Sunday trying to get home, and had to return Monday to try again.
“I never got an email,” Keith Ehmann said. “We just got here and found out our flight was canceled to Charlotte.”
At Tampa International, 25 American airlines flights were canceled on Sunday and eight were delayed. On Monday morning, two flights were canceled and several were delayed.
American Airlines said windy conditions in Texas started a chain-reaction of delays and a shortage of staff also came into play, similar to the issues affecting Southwest a couple weeks ago.
“People were yelling,” Keith Ehmann said. “They were very combative. The manager had to be called which didn’t do anything but a manager had to be called several times, not on us, but other people yelling and screaming. It wasn’t pleasant here.
The Ehmann’s had to pay for a hotel for Sunday night, and hoped the airlines would reimburse them for the full amount.
Instead of Charlotte, the Ehmann’s flew to Philadelphia, and made it home by Monday afternoon.
After wasted time and money, Ehmann said the airlines need to plan accordingly.
“Cut down your flights,” Keith Ehmann said. “Cut down for the staffing you have so you’re able to manage your flights. They took our money. Now we’re going to have to try to get a hotel refund.”
American Airlines said it’s hiring more pilots and reservations agents for the holidays.
“In the case of American Airlines, a lot of them paid lots of employees to leave last year,” Nexstar Travel Expert Seth Kaplan said. “They weren’t allowed to lay a lot of people off because of the money that they took from the federal government, but they could offer people incentives to retire early. They did that, and now here they are with a shortage of employees. Now these airlines are competing for the same people who all the other companies are.”
Kaplan said travels could experience the same headache over the busy holiday season.
“Unfortunately I don’t think you can out run this in terms of booking a different airline, because what we see here is it surfaces on one airline, and last month we might’ve thought, I’m not going to book Southwest,” he said. “I’ll book American. Well, that wouldn’t have helped you now.”
Kaplan recommends flexibility when booking holiday travel this season.
“If you’re going to try to schedule Thanksgiving in terms of arriving at the airport just a couple hours before the meal starts, well we see that things have not been as reliable recently as usual, so you might just want to leave a little more slack in your own schedule,” he said.
Kaplan offered these tips if your flights is cancelled:
- Being proactive and telling the airline how flexible you are. If your flight to Fort Lauderdale is canceled, these days airlines do a pretty good job of finding you the next available seat to Fort Lauderdale. But maybe the next open seat is to Miami or West Palm Beach. If so, tell the airline. They won’t assume that.
- Packing light and avoiding checking bags: Not only can that save you money on most airlines, but sometimes when a last-minute option becomes available – such as another flight leaving from another gate – the first thing an agent will ask you is: “Did you check any bags?” Rerouting a bag takes time, and they might only be willing to let you run for the flight if they don’t have to deal with a checked bag.
- Getting in line but also calling: If you’re at the airport and are told to wait in a long line to talk to an agent for alternate plans after your flight is canceled, get in the line but also call the airline from your cell phone at the same time. Especially if your flight is canceled, you’re likely competing against everyone else on your flight for just a few remaining seats on a different flight. Call centers are busy, but if you get through to an agent on the phone before you reach the front of the line, you might be able to grab one of those few remaining seats before someone else does.
- Looking for a “later but now earlier flight:” Check to see if there’s a later flight to your destination (or a nearby destination) that will now leave before your flight – in other words, your 1 p.m. flight is delayed to 4 p.m., but the 3 p.m. flight is on time. If so, ask the airline to switch you onto the other flight if there are any seats. They often won’t do that automatically. If the gate for the other flight is nearby, go to that gate and ask the agents there instead of waiting in line at the “problem” gate.
- Downloading the app of the airline you’re flying before heading to the airport: Some airline apps have good self-help options. And make sure the airline has all your contact info so that they can get in touch with you – with a call, text or email to tell you if something has gone wrong with your flight. The sooner you can start making alternative plans, the more likely you are to get one of those precious few open seats.
- Keeping a paper copy of your flight info: Technology is usually great. But when things go wrong, they can go very wrong, and you might not be able to access your flight records electronically (such as on the app) as easily as usual. It’s unlikely, but in case that does happen, you want to be able to walk up to a ticket counter with a printout of your plans.
To check the status of a flight arriving to or departing from Tampa International Airport, click here.