CHICAGO (WLS) -- The holiday weekend is fast approaching, with 3.5 million people expected to take to the skies, but cancelations and delays are piling up as airlines scramble to cope with the travel surge.
"We get on our flight and they tell us there's no fuel," said Joe Boles, who was traveling to North Carolina. "And the pilot comes on the line and says, 'This is the first time in 30 years I've been told there's not fuel.'"
Boles was flying from Montana Monday. After a detour to Kansas City and a missed connection to O'Hare, he has no idea when he'll get on a plane home. And he's not alone; Joel and Cristal Hernandez are stuck in Chicago with no luggage after severe weather led them to miss their connection.
They, including their children, now have tickets that need rebooking as they try to get back to Sacramento.
"We're on standby and we're trying to see if we can just book something for Thursday because that's the next flight," Jose Hernandez said.
Because their missed flight was travel-related, the couple is now on the hook for all their food, hotel and transportation expenses. But what is going on? Even before the last week's severe weather, airlines have been preemptively canceling hundreds of flights.
"The recovery of air travel has happened so fast the airlines are scrambling to get enough flights in the air without the labor force often to back that up. You throw in some storms and those back up crews aren't there," said Joe Schwieterman, DePaul University.
So then what? Every airline's policy is different, but in general most airline swill refund the entire price of the ticket when they cancel the flight or the delay is over a certain number of hours. Passengers also have a right to refuse the airline's initial offer.
"The first choice given may not be the best for you, "Schwieterman warned. "The implication is you may get on the phone, get in line, or use the website to do it yourself."
If you are traveling for the July 4 weekend, remember to activate your airline's travel alerts on your phone so if you do experience a cancelation or a significant delay, you can rebook immediately without having to waste time at the airport.