Travelers who booked flights on American Airlines can rest easier after the carrier said Friday night it resolved a scheduling glitch that potentially left hundreds of holiday flights without pilots.

In a statement the airline said, “If Santa is flying, so are we. We can now assure you that all flights over the holidays will be adequately staffed. Thanks to our #AATeam for working hard to make that happen.”

Earlier this week, the Allied Pilots Association said that more than 15,000 American flights from Dec. 17 to 31 could be without pilots because the glitch allowed too many of them to schedule vacation during the period. As of Friday morning, American said it had arranged to have pilots for all but a few hundred flights and was working to fill the rest.

As the glitch shows, traveling during the holidays can be fraught with problems. If you’ve booked a flight during this busy travel season and are wondering how to protect yourself in case of delays and cancellations, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Stay in Touch With Your Airline

It’s important for travelers to stay in touch with their airlines, especially in the days and hours before their scheduled flight.

One way to be in the know is to set up alerts with their carriers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines are required to provide passengers with information about a change in flight status 7 days before the flight is scheduled to depart and they must alert passengers no more than 30 minutes after the airline becomes aware of a status change.

If you want to communicate with the carrier directly, your best bet might be to use the social media site Twitter.

George Hobica, founder of the travel site Airfarewatchdog.com, says that if you join Twitter for the sole reason of communicating with your airline, it’ll be worth it. Joining should take just a few minutes and users should make sure to download the app onto their smartphone so they can communicate while on the move.

The point of contact for American on twitter, for example, is @AmericanAir. Be sure that you’re reaching out to the official AA account, it’ll have a check mark in a blue circle next to it to indicate its authenticity.

Before American announced the pilot issue had been resolved, a Consumer Reports reporter reached out to the airline on Friday via Twitter about his own flight. These were the responses he got:




Even if you aren’t satisfied with the airline’s response, Hobica recommends staying calm and not Twitter-shaming the airline.

What If the Flight Cancellation Is Beyond the Airline’s Control?

There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation. 

If your flight is canceled due to something that is beyond the airline’s control such as bad weather, worker strikes, politically motivated terrorism and even mechanical difficulties, your options are limited.

Most airlines have some kind of refund policy and will generally try to help you find another flight. It may even place you on another airline, but it is not required to by law. An airline could simply give travelers a refund for the unused portion of their itinerary.

Plus, airlines aren’t required to pay for your accommodations if you are stranded overnight due to a force majeure.

Travelers should familiarize themselves with their carrier’s contract and bring a printed copy with them to the airport.


Go to Consumer Reports' 2017 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. And be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide.
 

What If You Haven’t Booked a Flight Yet?

According to Ed Perkins, editor at the travel site SmarterTravel, there are a few things you can do:

1. Schedule flights early in the morning; delays cascade through the day.

2. If possible, take a nonstop flight to avoid "hubbing," even if it means paying more or traveling to and from an airport farther from your home or destination.

3. Avoid holiday peak days, if possible, by extending your vacation a few days.