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Frankenstorm: New DOT rules can help post-Sandy airline travelers

October 29, 2012|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, Baltimore-bound travelers Nene Coleman, left, and Shan Dora are stranded at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Coleman said Monday that the airline might not be able to get them home until Nov. 1.
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, Baltimore-bound travelers Nene Coleman, left,… (Erik S. Lesser / EPA )

As Hurricane Sandy begins to bear down on the East Coast,  stranded air travelers--9,500 flights have been canceled--are scrambling for tickets home. But when?

“I think that barring any  major damage at airports the next day and a half, you should see everything get back to normal this weekend,” said Rick Seaney, co-founder and chief executive of FareCompare.com.

Seaney is optimistic that the Frankenmess won’t be as tangled as it might have been at another time of year. “It’s a slow time…of the year for travel,” Seaney said. “A. There are not as many people in the air; B. Airlines proactively canceled a lot of flights...and people just didn’t go because of cancellations; and C. the airlines had enough notice to move aircraft to prepare.”

Make no mistake, though: Getting a ticket as the airlines try to “unwind” (Seaney’s apt term) the results of the storm may require a bit of doing. Certainly it helps if you have elite status on your airline, and it also helps if you understand the airlines waiver policies (links to some of the major airlines policies here).

One of the Department of Transportation’s new rules may also be of help, especially in light of how slowly Sandy is moving, Seaney said.

Let’s say you need to fly back East in the next few days but don’t want to deal with the aftermath of a bad storm, even if the airlines are flying again and airports are normal. In January, the DOT implemented rules that allow you to make an airline reservation that can be canceled up to 24 hours after it's made.  That may just be the time you need to see what the cleanup situation may be.

Your best help, however, may be the airlines’ websites. “Go to their homepage,” Seaney said. “It’s about getting info quickly” so you can make the best decision. And make sure you set up alerts on your phone ... just in case there are last-minute changes on the flight you do get.

For a list of airlines, phone numbers and websites, click here.

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