With France closing its borders, passengers are left to wonder, what’s next? For the most part, when a country shuts down flights, the airlines treat it like a massive weather delay. Aircraft already en route are diverted to other airports, and aircraft that have not yet departed will be held at their point of departure.
Based on all of the information right now it sounds like France is doing what we did on 9/11. Shut everything down, stop everything to in effect “stop the bleeding,” so they can start to figure things out.
The airlines will continue to treat it like a weather delay, or natural disaster, and wait for France to allow air traffic back into the country. At that point all of the passengers will be rebooked on other flights. Many times the airlines may also put additional aircraft into service to help handle the demand. Some passengers may choose to cancel their trips altogether, and they are usually offered some sort of travel voucher or their rebooking fees are waived. This is standard protocol for a severe weather delay or a flight cancellation due to a blizzard or similar situation.
The airlines are really not under an obligation to provide hotel vouchers or meal vouchers for the passengers as this delay is not their fault, although some may just as a matter of customer service. Otherwise, passengers that are stranded in cities where the aircraft diverted will have to find their own accommodations and food for the time being.
Airports are also affected by such massive flight cancellations. In some situations, airport operators have contingencies for these types of emergencies, again more related to weather delays but they work here as well. Depending on the airport, they may have agreements in place with the restaurants and catering companies that serve the airport to help provide food for stranded passengers. Many airports also have a healthy supply of blankets, pillows, and even sometimes dry goods to help a massive passenger shelter-in-place situation.
Airport operators also have to be concerned for the medical needs of passengers who may be only carrying a short supply of their medicine with them, in addition to accommodating passengers with functional needs for a longer period of time.
The trickle-down effect is quite significant. There will be a period of time where it will get very hectic, trying to handle all of these passengers, but as they are rebooked onto other flights either heading back home or to alternate destinations, and as they find local accommodations outside of the airport the situation will start to calm down.