What to Do When a Volacno Cancels Your Flight

Originally published in August 2015. Updated August 10, 2020.

Wait! Don’t call the cab to take us to the equator! The hotel attendants had already started calling a cab for us on our one day in Quito, but as soon as we realized we had a bigger problem, we knew we needed to get that figured out first! Steve clicked on the “See My Options” link in the United cancellation e-mail, and the message we received was: “There are no options.” No kidding.

Those “clouds” are not rain clouds. That is ash from the “exploding” (not erupting) volcano.

So, United wasn’t especially helpful. There is exactly one flight out of Quito on United per day, and it leaves at 11:55pm, bound for Houston. For Steve and me, waiting until tomorrow night was not an option, especially knowing the flight may not go then either! So Steve and I, while Steve was on the hotel phone with United, searched for better options. The representative told us the cancellation was because of the volcanic ash in the air, so even tomorrow night’s flight might not go! You remember that stuff I mentioned that was falling on us earlier in the day? It was volcanic ash!

What baffled us during this new flight-finding process was that so many other flights were still scheduled to leave Quito. Anyway, we (Steve and me, not the United representative) finally got some new flights booked after an hour on the phone. Now, instead of leaving at 11:55pm and arriving in DC at 11:29am the next day, we would be leaving at 6:28pm and landing in DC at 11:45am! What started with Quito-Houston-DC now became Quito-Panama-Newark-DC. And we needed to get to the airport ASAP!

Time to head back to the airport!

The Quito airport is nearly an hour away from town, and protests would be starting up again soon! No equator excursion for us! Our helpful hotel assistants were there for us through the whole ordeal, though, which was really helpful! They even called us a cab and told him to “go really fast!”

Round and round and round the mountains we went! Up some hills and down some curves, roundabouts abounded, and other cars came way too close for comfort! Our cabbie even put his flashers on for us, and we got there in under an hour. He was pretty awesome!

So there we were, ready to fly on Panama-based Copa Airlines, in the Star Alliance with United. When we checked in, the man behind the desk told us to go straight to the gate because the flight may leave early because of the volcanic ash. Or it might be cancelled. So go to the gate immediately! We muddled through passport control and the duty-free zone, then we realized… Our gate was behind an impenetrable glass wall!

#LaterGram: No indication of a problem while flying in the day before.

And so we waited. No one could really tell us why the big glass wall was there. No one could really tell us when it would open. We just had to wait! We made a friend in line. Her name is Janice, and she is from New Jersey. She would be on the first two legs of the journey with us. And she had just come from a week in the Galapagos as well. We had seen her at the Basilica that morning. She was great!

Our flight took off just a few minutes early, and we watched the sunset over Ecuador!

Sun setting over Quito.

 Then we flew into Panama, but we missed the Canal. All the more reason to go back!

After we landed, Steve took a shower in the Star Alliance lounge while I Skyped with mom for a few minutes. Then I made a mistake. I went to ask the girls at the front desk if there was a Starbucks in the airport. I wanted to add a mug to our collection and have it as a reminder of our exciting detour on the end of our trip of a lifetime. They looked at me like I had just insulted them in the worst way! Glad looks don’t kill. For the record, there is no Starbucks in Galapagos, Quito, or the Panama City Airport!

The Panama airport was pretty impressive. I’ve never seen so many high-end stores in an airport before, many I had never heard of! But the experience at the gate was less glamorous. They had us go through extra security, which is ok. But they also took away our water at the gate. The only other airport we know of where they do that is Hong Kong. Now, I drink a lot of water, so this was problematic. Those little 4 ounce cups of water… Seriously? The flight attendants came by once for beverage service (I got a water and a hot tea), and once more with a tray of cups of water. By the time we got to Newark, I was incredibly thirsty! But on the bright side, I didn’t need to go to the bathroom.

Night Shot of Panama City, Panama

And it’s a good thing! Because Steve spotted a 6:00am flight from Newark to Dulles. If we could get on that flight, we would save ourselves 4 agonizing hours waiting in the airport, and get home 4 hours and 45 minutes ahead of schedule! Let’s do it!

Thank goodness for Global Entry, mobile boarding passes, TSA Pre-check, and Steve’s direct phone number to United! We rushed through security, ran from Terminal C to the Terminal A shuttle (after missing it and having to backtrack), and waited 10 precious minutes for the shuttle to come. We needed to get to Gate A25A to ask if we could get on the flight, but by the time we got to the waiting area for the shuttle, it was already 5:25. The gate agents would probably tell us no by the time we got to the gate, but we had so much time to spare while we waited for the shuttle, and it hit me… Why don’t we call now and get a jump start on the process?

Our view leaving Newark!
Read more: Benefits of Airline Loyalty

So Steve whipped out his fancy 1K United card and called the magic number on the back. Much to our delight and amazement… She got us in! The shuttle finally arrived, and when it parked at Terminal A, we dashed to the counter and got our new tickets printed. The United employees at the gate were very rude and unnecessarily bothered by us coming on at the last minute, but you know what? We didn’t care! We were going home!

And you know what we did when we got home? Took a three-hour nap!

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7 responses to “What to Do When a Volacno Cancels Your Flight”

  1. […] internationally, calling may not be an option. But if you have a situation like Steve and I did trying to get out of Quito, don’t be afraid to ask a nearby business (hotel, restaurant, etc.) if you can use their […]

  2. […] And then we waited in the VIP lounge, and then we boarded our plane to the mainland about 3 hours later, which made for a bit of a long day, but better safe than sorry! Next stop: Quito! And then, the Volcano of Doom. […]

  3. […] Quito! If you read my previous post about our time there last month, you already know it’s not my favorite place on Earth. But I can do anything for a couple of days–really just 25 hours, if you’re the […]

  4. […] and I were coming home from the Galapagos and spent an unfortunate day in Quito, Ecuador. Their volcano, Cotopaxi, was potentially going to erupt, spewing warning ashes all over the city! Our flight got cancelled, […]

  5. […]  7. Talking to a Live Person–Immediately, the First Time With higher status often comes a magic number. This phone number that leads you to a real, live person who is given your name and can access your account to answer questions, book difficult itineraries, and make changes for you when you missed your flight or your flight gets cancelled. This has saved us several times, but most notably that time we had to escape an “exploding” volcano! […]

  6. […] All day long we wondered what all this pollution was and why everything in Quito was so dirty. Only when our original flight was cancelled did we find out it was due to ash from the […]

  7. […] and I were coming home from the Galapagos and spent an unfortunate day in Quito, Ecuador. Their volcano, Cotopaxi, was potentially going to erupt, spewing warning ashes all over the city! Our flight got cancelled, […]

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