Stranded by Your Airline? Here’s What to Do

On October 1, 2018, Primera Air collapsed, stranding all of their customers. They canceled all of their flights and announced they would be filing for bankruptcy. You can find their official statement on their website here.

On October 17, 2018, Cobalt Air suspended all its operations. It canceled all scheduled flights and told customers not to go to the airport.

In 2010, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano exploded, my parents and I became stranded in Italy. I was living in France at the time, but my parents were visiting me in Europe. This further stranded them in Europe for a week. Classmates of mine were also stranded around the world, from the UK to the Greek Islands to Bogota, Colombia. We all became very savvy travelers very quickly that week.

Based on my experience and lessons learned, I compiled the following list – in no particular order – of things to do to improve your situation if you are stranded by Primera Air. Accomplish whichever you think is best or easiest first. If you have a travel companion or local contacts, tackle multiple items at once.

Consider Alternate Forms of Transportation

Your original intention was to catch a flight to your final destination. If you have a transatlantic flight, this is probably still your best option. However, flights will be packed over the next week or two with every other Primera Air customer. If your original flight path was within Europe, consider taking a train, a ferry, or renting a car.

Trains are the most efficient way to travel within Europe even if there are flights available. If you want to book your trip ahead of time, do so with the local train website in the country you’re leaving from (you can usually only collect tickets from within the country whose website you use).

Alternatively, it is pretty easy to show up at a train station and buy a ticket on-the-spot. If your schedule is flexible or uncertain, this may be the best solution for you.

If you choose to rent a car, ask about local laws regarding taking the car across country borders if your trip will be international. This includes trips within the European Union or European Economic Area.

Look into Alternative Flight Routes

So you had a direct flight back from Paris to Boston this afternoon. Perhaps every other flight from Paris to Boston is booked solid over the next four days, but there are many flights available from London to Boston (they do have five airports compared to Paris’ two). If you find yourself in this situation, consider taking a train or a quick flight from Paris to London to catch a flight from there. This alternative may prove effective in getting you home faster and cheaper than waiting to re-book your original flight path.

Book a Flight

If you must fly to get to your destination, whether using an alternative route or your original flight plan, book a flight ASAP! Remember, there are hundreds of people around the world with flights canceled over the next couple of weeks. They will all be trying to get the same alternative flights you are getting. The BBC reported today that many other airlines are trying to help out Primera Air passengers by offering discounted flights for their remaining seats, but these will sell out quickly. [UPDATE: Norwegian Air released a statement this morning offering to repatriate Primera Air passengers for a 50% discount]. Book your flight now through the normal methods online, and then speak with the airline about any discounts they may be offering to help out.

When my parents were stranded in Europe, they booked themselves a Friday afternoon flight back home. They called the airline later that day but were told there were no flights available until the following Monday. My dad told the airline my parents about the reservation he had made on the Friday flight. The airline allowed my parents to retain that flight for free, as would have been the case for the Monday flight. Alternatively, my friend in Bogota went to the airport every day for over a week trying to catch a standby flight back to Europe. Everyone is going to be trying to find a new flight, so reserve yours now!

Reserve Accommodations

This is fourth on the list because I think it makes more sense to figure out travel plans first. However, if you know you’ll be spending at least one night in your current location, I would make this the first thing you do. My family and I did not do this when we were stuck in Milan with thousands of other travelers. We had to stay in the last hotel with available rooms, which was probably the worst place I’ve ever stayed (including hostels)! Check in with your AirBNB host to see if you can extend your stay given the circumstances, or look online for available hotels in your current city. I recommend a comprehensive hotel search site like* for a task like this because it will show you every possible accommodation available.

Notify Your Employer, School, Family, and/or Friends

If you will be missing work, school, or a group vacation, remember to notify the necessary individuals. It may be stressful to tell your boss you need an extra three unscheduled vacation days, or to tell your professor you have to miss tomorrow’s exam because you are in another country, but I found that most people are very understanding in these circumstances. You did not cause the airline to collapse. You did not choose to get stranded and have to find your way home. As my mom’s boss told her in 2010, there is nothing you can do about your situation, so make your best effort to return and otherwise enjoy the extra few days off!

Look Into Other Reimbursements and Discounts

The extra flight and accommodation costs will unfortunately not be your only additional expenses. Maybe your vacation is now canceled or delayed, but you have a hotel booked for the next week. Maybe you parked your car at the airport and now suddenly will have to pay for an extra three days. Like the people in your life, most companies are understanding in these circumstances and will give you a discount or full reimbursement. This is especially true with hotels that can re-fill the room in which you were supposed to stay. You may even be helping out a fellow stranded passenger by freeing up a hotel room!

Relax and Enjoy your Extra Time

Once you have completed the above steps, take advantage of your extra vacation days! The stressful part is over. You have additional, unexpected days of vacation. Did you try to cram everything you wanted to do into a few short days? Maybe now is the time to pick your favorite attraction and go spend some extra time really getting to know it. If you’ve already seen everything you hoped for in your destination city, this could be the time to try something off the beaten path or spend time living like a local (if you want to try this in Northern Wales, check out my local recommendations in this post). Make the most of the additional time you now have, knowing that everything is in place for your delayed return.

Recovery from Primera Air

After you have safely reached your destination, you may consider pursuing claims against Primera Air for recovery of any travel expenses or losses. The aforementioned BBC article noted that it is unlikely most passengers will be able to recover anything from the airline because of the bankruptcy filing, but offers alternative avenues to pursue like those with the credit card companies. If you are an American citizen or have a flight involving the States, you may have American remedies available to you. You should contact an attorney if you choose to pursue a legal remedy. Bankruptcy law can be tricky and most customers are the last people to get paid in such instances after most of the money has run out.

Good luck to everyone stranded out there, and safe travels home!

Looking for more travel advice? Check out these other related posts!

*Note, this page contains affiliate links. This means I may receive some compensation for your use of the link at no extra cost to you.


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