The following information is a collection of recommendations on the best steps a resident director can take when a group flight scheduled by the designated university travel provider is delayed or canceled. Students will look to the resident director for guidance, so it is important to maintain a calm, professional demeanor and understand that every situation is unique. There is a difference between a flight delay and a flight cancellation, and the appropriate steps are separated into those two factors:
If the cancellation is the airline’s fault (mechanical issue, lack of a crew, etc.), then resident directors should be prepared to be firm but polite when speaking with the airline representative at the boarding gate. (tip: if there is a huge line at your gate, go to another gate for the same airline. Any gate agent for the same airline can help you.) Resident directors should explain they are the group leader of a university education abroad program, and that the airline should do whatever possible to get the group to their destination due to the program schedule being based on their on-time arrival at the destination. If the airline representative indicates there are no other flight options, the resident director should remind the agent that, because this was an airline-related cancellation, the agent is required to make every attempt to endorse the group on another airline. This is a common remedy that the airline agent may not immediately offer because they would prefer to have the group stay on their airline.
If the cancellation is not the airline’s fault (weather, lack of a crew due to weather, airport equipment malfunction, etc.), resident directors are likely to encounter a “you’ll just have to wait” attitude from airline agents. Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done differently. If an airport is shut down by weather (a control tower fire, an Icelandic volcano, etc.), there are thousands of people at the same airport in the same situation as the group.
In both of these scenarios, the best advice is for the resident director to get in the shortest line they can find and phone the university travel provider. Once the resident director reaches the front of the line, the university travel provider can then determine if the most expedient solution will be for the resident director to work with the airline agent or if the university travel provider can provide a resolution. As time permits and as soon as possible, the resident director should notify the specialist.
By approaching the problem this way, we are simultaneously working the two best avenues to fix the problem. It is important to let the education abroad specialist/university travel provider know the moment a conversation begins with the airline agent. If the airline agent attempts to enter the record at the same time as the university travel provider agent is in the record, it creates chaos. If the airline representative is willing to help, which is always best, then the university travel provider agent needs to be told to get out of the record immediately.
If suitable alternate flight arrangements cannot be made, then lodging in that city will likely be required. Please refer to the Securing Accommodations/Alternative Arrangements During a Group Flight Delay/Cancellation section below.
A flight delay is considered a smaller problem than a cancellation but can be significantly more aggravating. As with a cancellation, it can be within the airline’s control or something larger and out of its control. Many times, a delay will start out as only a few minutes, only to become several hours. Unfortunately, too often the announcement of the longer delay comes after it is too late to make other arrangements. It is good practice to communicate with the airline gate agent when a delay is first announced to determine the “severity” of the reason for the delay.
The agents are trained to say just enough to get passengers away from the counter, without being too specific. If the resident director explains that they are leading a group of college students on an education abroad program and the importance of making the next connection, a lot of times the agent will give a more in-depth answer as to how long they expect the delay to be. If they believe the delay to be long enough to cause the group to miss their connection, the agent can immediately start investigating alternate flight options. If the delay occurs during business hours, this would also be the time to contact the education abroad specialist and the university travel provider to discuss if changes need to be made to the in-country portion of the trip.
If a delay or cancellation is experienced outside of OIA’s business hours, resident directors should follow all of the above advice but also call the Ohio State 24/7 emergency phone 614-292-6677 to provide an update on the status of the group’s new flight itinerary.
If suitable alternate flight arrangements cannot be made, then lodging in that city will likely be required. Typically, the cancellation or delay would need to be overnight and/or 12 hours for the airline to offer accommodation. If the cancellation is the airline’s fault, then the resident director should request the airline pay for the hotels.
If the group is delayed overnight in Columbus (before departing), students who have local housing are permitted to leave the airport and return the next morning for the flight. If students do not have accommodations or if the overnight delay is in another U.S. city or abroad and the cancellation is not the airline’s fault, the resident director and education abroad specialist should begin the process of securing a nearby hotel by:
If the group flight is significantly delayed/canceled in a U.S. connecting city within driving distance to Columbus on their return, it may be more practical to have a private coach arranged by the university travel provider to take the group back to Columbus instead of lodging in a hotel and having the group split up on multiple flights the next day. The resident director or the education abroad specialist should inquire about this possibility by:
Students are responsible for covering their own meals during a delay/cancellation. The education abroad specialist will notify the students’ emergency contact about the alternative transportation plans.