Your Finances: When your flight is delayed

A Southwest Airlines plane takes off from Seattle-Tacoma A Southwest Airlines plane takes off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Oct. 28, 2013. Photo Credit: AP

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Winter has not been kind to airline travelers. Since Dec. 21, more than 74,825 U.S. flights have been canceled and another 285,889 delayed in the United States, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks flights.

I was one of those unlucky travelers. During the Presidents Day weekend I was set to go to Los Angeles from New York with my 9-year-old son. The day before our flight, New York City encountered a large snowstorm. It took me three days to reach sunny, snow-free LA.

I spoke to several travel experts to get advice on what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled. Here are their tips.

Talk to a human being: When a major event hits, like a stock market correction in the financial world, many companies add staff.

But union rules and other technicalities mean that airlines don't have as much flexibility if travel havoc strikes, explains Seth Kaplan, an analyst at Airline Weekly, an industry publication.

When you finally reach someone, be sure to let them know if you have any flexibility in your travel plans. Heading to Washington, D.C.? Would a flight to Richmond, Va., or Baltimore be better than no flight at all?

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Change your flight plan: Avoid the after-the-fact scramble by changing your flight as soon as a weather emergency pops up.

When airlines issue travel advisories, they want you to rearrange your plans, says Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief of the travel website Frommers.com.

"It is easier for them if passengers get out of the way" of a storm, Cochran notes.

Keep in mind that once a travel advisory is issued, you have to act fast, particularly if you are flying on a peak travel day.

Another option: Fly standby, although that can be tricky if you have kids in tow or when lots of people are scrambling.

Don't rely on Twitter: Back in the caveman days of social media, airlines were quick to respond to consumers via Twitter. No longer.

"It's the illusion of customer service," Cochran says. "It just makes you feel heard."

Complain: If you don't like the service you have received, file a complaint with your airline. It's certainly worth asking for something.

Enjoy what you get: As for my trip? I still don't understand why it took three very frigid days to get to my final destination. My flight was canceled because the inbound flight crew got delayed, according to United spokesman Charles Hobart.

It turned out OK because we had a great vacation. And by the time we returned home, most of the snow had melted and it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

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