NEW YORK -- A wave of snowstorms and bitter cold temperatures have caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of fliers whose flights have been canceled. In the past three days, more than 8,000 flights in the United States have been canceled, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com. On Monday alone, 1 out of every 10 domestic flights never took off.
In recent years, airlines have cut the number of flights to ensure that most of their planes depart full. That's been great for their bottom line but leaves very few empty seats to rebook stranded travelers. Passengers are pretty much at the mercy of the airlines. But there are a few things you can do to improve their odds of getting home quickly:
• If you miss your connection, the airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. However, with flights at near capacity, the next open seat could be several days away.
• If you're unhappy with your rebooked flight, get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also, pick up the phone and call the airline directly, go onto the airline's website and even consider sending a tweet. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline's overseas numbers. You'll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait.
• Consider buying a one-day pass to the airline lounge. It's a nice place to relax away from the crowd and there are usually free drinks and light snacks. But the real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best -- and friendliest -- ticket agents. The lines inside will be much shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats where nobody else can. One-day passes typically cost $50.
• Use apps like HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are nonrefundable when booked.