A Colorado snowstorm can’t stop this self-advocate

It’s inspiring when readers share with us how our advice and contact information helped them out of a jam.

That’s what Georgine Garbarini experienced after dodging some flight challenges when a snowstorm slammed Colorado recently.

She was scheduled on a flight the following day on United Airlines, but when she saw that flights were being delayed, she took action.

Even though Garbarini’s flight had not yet been canceled, she knew that the significant delays would cause her to miss her connecting flight the next day. Following the advice from articles she had read on our site, she became proactive. She contacted United about rebooking her on an alternate flight. United was unable to find another flight, even though it explored different routing options on other carriers.

Airlines are not required to endorse a ticket to another carrier, or in other words, rebook a passenger on a different airline at its own expense. If it has no alternate flights available, there may be unusual situations when the airline agrees to do so for canceled flights. It’s yet another reminder that airline reciprocity, where carriers accept tickets from one another, may need to be resurrected.

If passengers find an available flight on another airline, it’s worth asking the current carrier about this alternative. Otherwise, the airline will typically rebook passengers on its next available flight and send an updated itinerary.

In Garbarini’s case, her flight was never canceled, but it was going to be considerably late. United was under a ground stop at Denver International Airport because of issues with deicing equipment. Both arriving and departing flights on United were delayed, and incoming flights had to wait for a gate, leaving passengers sitting on the tarmac for hours.

Related story:   United Airlines goes out of its way for a passenger

A ground stop is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration where it restricts operations at a specified airport. Outbound flights are delayed and incoming flights may be diverted to other cities. This happens when air traffic control cannot safely accommodate additional aircraft because of weather conditions or major equipment outages.

If passengers are left stranded overnight because of a canceled or delayed flight, they should ask the airline if it will provide hotel and meal vouchers. Even if the airline’s policy does not include this amenity, it is worth the request. According to United, if a flight is canceled because of a mechanical issue or something within its control, it will either book a hotel room for passengers or provide reimbursement. For events outside of its control, such as weather, it does not cover hotel or meal expenses.

In regards to United’s flight delays and cancellations, it states,

When severe weather or other major events may impact our operations, we sometimes issue travel waivers to allow you to change to alternate flights. Depending on the severity of the event, we may allow you to change to another flight or travel on a different date without paying a change fee.

If you decide to no longer travel, either because your original flight was canceled or you are delayed two hours or more, you can receive a refund to your original form of payment. Other optional services such as checked baggage and Economy Plus® can also be refunded, but ticketing fees (such as those for making a reservation in person) are not.

United offered Garbarini a full credit for future travel without any penalty fees, even though her flight had not been canceled and her ticket was nonrefundable. When she contacted Marriott to cancel her hotel reservations, she was once again relieved. Marriott agreed to waive the penalty fee for canceling in less than 24 hours.

Related story:   What TSA's iPad theft problem means for your next flight

Garbarini felt like a valued customer and attributed her successful resolution to information she had found on our site. “I just want to say thanks. I feel better prepared to negotiate for myself, thanks to finding your site!” We appreciate our readers taking the time to write us.

Elliott.org is an advocacy site that provides consumers with the tools, contact information, and insight on how to solve their service problems. For those consumers who have reached an impasse, we have advocates available who will work diligently toward a solution on their behalf.

Honesty, fairness, and respect are values that we uphold. We applaud companies that value  customers and treat them with importance, and we commend consumers that are considerate as they work toward a resolution. Garbarini’s success story is one that we love to hear.

Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing. Read more of Stephanie's articles here.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    This post shows the value of paying attention.

  • Bill___A

    Working with the providers is often the best way forward. Good to see.

  • PsyGuy

    I’m very happy this worked out, and it’s a testament to this site and the advocacy but also the education it provides. I would like to point out however that in this case the LW was just being proactive instead of being a sheeple.

  • sirwired

    I guess this is a nice tale… although one need not leverage the resources of this site to know about this; when a weather waiver is offered, it’s usually mentioned in large type right on an airline’s home page, letting you know you can get a fee-free ticket credit by simply calling and asking for one.

  • jm71

    This needs a little clarity:

    – If the flight was actually delayed (as reported by United), guaranteeing a missed connection and no good rebooking options, then a full cash/card refund was due if the LW desired, not just a travel credit. “Nonrefundable” is always refundable if the carrier can’t deliver you to your destination in a reasonably close timeframe. I wouldn’t accept a credit in most cases.

    – If she was simply being proactive because she believed delays were likely, then good for her to avoid a potential mess, and I believe this falls in line with the normal UA travel waiver (allowing rebooking within a week or so for no fare change, and rebooking later with no penalty but a possible fare difference, which is effectively what the credit she received does).

    – In any case, it was great advice to politely call the Marriott and ask; unlike airlines a good number of hotel managers and front desk employees have latitude to cancel with no penalty even after the deadline. It’s worth remembering and praising those hotels to reward with future business!

  • JewelEyed

    I thought that was weird too, it says she was entitled to a refund, no idea why she took a credit.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.