What to Do When Your Flight is Cancelled: Our Cathay Pacific Experience

what to do when your flight is cancelled delayed cathay pacific

Recently, I was booked on a super cheap fanfare return flight (read more about how to score cheap Cathay Pacific flights here) from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Our flight there was uneventful, but about seven hours before we were supposed to return to Hong Kong, we were notified via email that our flight had been cancelled...and that we would not be put onto another flight until 12 hours later. 

This was extra frustrating, because that meant we had to stay another night in San Francisco (at our own cost) and that rather than arriving in Hong Kong on a Monday morning in time for work, we would have to take off an extra day of annual leave, given the delayed arrival time.

Cue ensuing irritation.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that the process behind making a claim for the flight cancellation was more cumbersome than I expected. I first called the Marco Polo Club (the frequent flyer arm of Cathay Pacific) and was forced to leave a message for a return call. No return call was ever received. I then sent them a message on their website, and received a return email two days later telling me that I had to call the complaints hotline.

I called the hotline, and was again forced to leave a message for a return call. To their credit, they called me back that day, and asked me if I wished to open an official complaint file. I was somewhat surprised about this, given I thought that perhaps there was a simple form somewhere online that I could fill out and make a claim for (i) reimbursement of costs spent for staying an extra night in SF; and (ii) a flight cancellation certificate confirming that my flight was cancelled.

Apparently such a form does not exist (update: one of our savvy readers just found the form for the flight certificate here), and after lodging my complaint over the phone, the operator informed me that Cathay would be in touch within 14 days to respond, and also to provide me with a flight cancellation certificate.

what to do when your flight is cancelled delayed cathay pacific

A few days later, I received an email from Cathay, apologising for the flight cancellation, but refusing to offer any sort of compensation aside from 3,000 Asia Miles points. The email stated:

"In such situations, we try to make arrangements by providing hotel stay, meal and rebooking our passengers on alternate direct or indirect flights, subject to seat availability so that they can reach to their destinations as soon as possible. However, I am sorry if this initiative did not meet your expectations."

I have to admit that my initial snarky response was that their initiative did not meet my expectations given that it did not even exist, because we were at no stage offered a hotel stay or meals during the 12 hour delay.

Having gone through this cumbersome process, here are my top tips for what to do when your flight is cancelled.

what to do when your flight is cancelled delayed cathay pacific

1. Lawyer up: Check your travel documentation

Most airlines will probably tell you (like Cathay Pacific did) that they are not responsible for any delays or cancellations of their flights. However, check the airline carrier T&Cs. I discovered that for European flights, Cathay Pacific does offer something like EU 600 in compensation, although this does not appear to be their policy for flights from Asia (and I assume this is because the EU has laws in place requiring them to compensate users). For American airlines, check out this handy comparison table of airline compensation here.

The next thing to check is your insurance policy. I have travel insurance with Zurich, and they offer HK$300 per six hour flight delay period (up to a maximum cap) - which is not a lot of money if you need to pay for an extra night's accommodation. Make sure you obtain all the documentation you are going to need to make a claim, including a travel cancellation/delay certificate from your airline, as well as your boarding pass.

2. Have a cry about it: Call your airline

One of the mistakes we probably made was that we didn't call Cathay straight away (by the time we realised our flight was cancelled, it was after work hours on a Saturday, so we weren't able to). I take it from their email, they may have arranged for accommodation and meals for us if we had called them to complain. Also remember to call the correct hotline (which in Cathay's case, appears to be their complaint hotline, regardless of whether you are a Marco Polo member) so you don't waste time in being transferred or leaving messages and waiting in vain for them to call you back.

If you have a Twitter account, sometimes tweeting the airline is actually more effective in provoking a response - most major airlines have a PR team keeping an eye out on their social media feeds, although I find that the US airlines tend to be better about this.

When you call your airline, make sure that you have been re-booked on a flight that you are happy with. Cathay usually automatically books you on the next available flight - but it seems some American airlines require you to re-book yourself.


3. Proof is in the pudding: Keep your receipts

Some travel insurance policies require proof of expenditure, so always remember to keep the receipts for your accommodation, meals, transport, emergency items (like toiletries) and anything else you spend money on due to the flight delay or cancellation. If you have bought things that aren't related to the delay (like the calendar clock my travel buddy bought at the airport), avoid the hassle of arguing over such costs with the insurance company by asking that these items be put on a separate receipt (which you then don't claim).

Overall, remember to be polite but firm when making a complaint. Airlines now expect you to have bought travel insurance, and as such, are unlikely to give you much by way of compensation. If you really feel like you have been hard-done, then send them a formal complaint letter, a public Tweet...or blog about it ;)

xx Carmen

**Update: Over a week later, I received a call from the Marco Polo club asking if I needed assistance. Turns out they might actually be able to help their customers (surprise!) - but I told them the Cathay complaints department was handling the situation already.

** Further update: After being told that another person previously received a free flight upgrade voucher, I asked Cathay if they would offer me that as well. Instead they offered me US$75 as compensation - not enough to cover accommodation in SF, but still better than nothing!

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2 comments :

  1. Ugh - that totally sucks! And that email response would have totally annoyed me further! The only time this has ever happened to me was when I was travelling back to Hong Kong from the UK and my flight was delayed until the next day - Air NZ were pretty great about it and had arranged hotel accommodation near the airport (including breakfast, shuttle buses etc), and all the info was at the check-in desk. I'm a pretty nervy traveller and was travelling on my own so I'm so thankful they went to such efforts to do all this as I'd probably have gone to pieces otherwise!

    It doesn't really help your situation but I think if you book via a travel agent like Flight Centre, they also come into their own in situations like this and are able to help. Glad you got a bit a monetary compensation in the end... even if it was nowhere near what you deserved!

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    1. I know - it was super annoying! Actually now the worst thing is that they originally told us the cancellation was due to operational reasons (which is covered by my insurance company), but then on the flight certificate, suddenly they said it was because of aircrew sickness (which is not covered by my insurance company)! So I couldn't even get anything back from insurance either :(
      Definitely agree on the travel agent thing - not having that sort of customer service is the downside to buying fanfare tickets!

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