How to Cope with Flight Delays and Cancellations
Air travel can be a stressful experience, even when it goes according to plan. It's even more stressful when unexpected delays and cancellations occur due to circumstances beyond your control. By preparing before you leave home, contacting your airline, knowing your rights as a passenger, and maintaining a polite, positive attitude, you can deal with these situations calmly and efficiently and reach your destination as quickly as possible.
Avoiding Flight Problems Ahead of Time
Schedule your flight on a less busy travel day.Tuesdays and Wednesdays are when the least number of people travel, so you may want to book your air travel for these days to avoid delays. Also, make sure to avoid booking your flight on or near a major holiday, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, or around another busy travel time, such as spring break for local colleges. Your best bets for booking travel when less people will be traveling are winter or the off-season for your destination, or during a time in spring or fall that is not near a major holiday.
Check in early.Use your computer or mobile device to check into your flight as soon as the twenty-four hour window opens. This will give you a better chance of not getting bumped off the plane if a delay occurs and your flight becomes oversold, and it will also reduce your time spent in line.
- If you fly often, then you might consider spending a little extra for a service like TSA pre-check, which allows you to skip the long lines and use a special, shorter line at check-in. This service requires a background check and there is an fee.
Get travel insurance.Having travel insurance is a huge help in case of a flight delay or cancellation. Pick a package that covers what you need, such as medical, travel protection, and baggage protection.Many policies will help cover your costs of a hotel room, meals, or other various expenses.
- Make sure to purchase your insurance well before your trip, as any storm systems that occur before your purchase will mostly likely not be covered.
Sign up for airport notifications.Make sure you’re the first to know about any changes by signing up for instant notifications from the airport. This way, you can make arrangements quickly if a delay or cancellation does occur.
- Along with signing up for official airport notifications, download a third-party app that will notify you of delays. Sometimes third-party apps actually relay information about delays faster than the official airline website, so try downloading several such as TripIt Pro or App in the Air.
- If you’ve arranged for relatives or friends to pick you up from the airport, suggest these options to them so they can receive live updates on any flight schedule changes.
Pack a few extra days’ worth of essentials just in case.Bring a few extra doses of prescription medication, pairs of underwear and socks, and maybe a laundry soap sheet to wash your clothes if the delay stretches on.
- Always make sure to write down everything you will need for your trip before you pack. This will save you time and help to ensure that you pack all of the necessary items.
- It is also a good idea to look up the airport’s guidelines for how to pack certain items, such as liquids and toiletries.
Pack layers in your carry-on for any kind of weather.In case you end up stranded in weather that you weren’t planning for, make sure to dress in layers to keep warm or cool.
Bring your own water and snacks.If you end up stuck at an airport or on the tarmac, you’ll want to have some food and water with you. Pack some snacks and water in your carry-on in case of an emergency.
- Make sure to empty any water bottles before going through security, then fill them up in the terminal area.
Check the status of your flight before going to the airport.You can call the airline or check flight status online. If you notice delays online, contact the airline directly for more information.
Monitor the weather.If weather is bad, flights into or out of the airport will be affected. Icy conditions, stormy weather and extreme weather events could definitely cause some problems.
- If bad weather is forecasted during your flight, contact the airport for more information and to check if they’ve announced any cancellations or delays due to the weather so you can reschedule.
Negotiating with the Airline
Know your passenger rights.Since there are no federal requirements on weather-related delays and cancellations in the U.S., all American airlines have their own policies for compensation.Make sure to check your airline’s rules so you can be firm on what you are owed. Go online or call a customer service representative to find airline policies.
- Airlines generally won’t compensate you for delays caused by storms, riots, and labor strikes, which they consider circumstances out of their control. However, if your flight is delayed due to mistakes on the airline’s part, you are entitled to compensation that increases as the delay stretches on.
- If your flight is cancelled, many US airlines will only provide a re-booked flight or a full refund. Some, however, will offer special vouchers and perks as well.
Contact the airline directly.You can even do this while waiting in line to talk to a service rep or agent at the airport. Often, you will be able to reach the airline before you make it through the line, whether by calling or by reaching out to the airline over social media. When using social media, make sure to use a polite tone and maybe a bit of humor to make your point.
- Airlines may vary on responsiveness when contacted through social media. American Airlines is known for being helpful, while Delta and United are often not.
Ask how long the delay will be and how it will affect you.Make sure to ask the service rep if it will affect your connecting flight, if you have one. You should also ask how the change will affect your baggage. This information will help you plan how to best deal with the delay or cancellation.
- If the schedule change interferes with your connecting flight, you'll have to re-book that as well.
- Airlines have different procedures regarding checked luggage when flights are delayed or cancelled. Make sure to ask a service representative about their policy.
Rebook your flight or request a refund.If you want to rebook your flight with this airline, their service representatives can help you find the best option. However, if you want to book a new flight with a different airline, ask for a refund instead and either contact your travel insurance agent, find a representative from a different airline, or go online to find a new flight.
Call your insurance company.If you have travel insurance, you can call in for help re-booking the flight and finding accommodations if the delay or cancellation requires you to stay the night.
Ask for automatic compensation if you’re delayed for three hours on Jetblue.JetBlue is the only U.S. domestic airline that guarantees its customers compensation for delays. If you’re stuck on the tarmac for three to four hours, the airline will give a credit.
- If you’re waiting five or more hours, the credit goes up to 0.
Expect better compensation if you’re traveling in Europe.European Union regulations are far more generous to customers in cases of delays or cancellation.
- In the case of a delay, the laws require airlines to provide meals, refreshments, and overnight accommodations as needed.
- European airlines must also pay customers for delays. If your flight is delayed more than four hours, you can be paid up to 250 to 600 euros.
- If your European flight is canceled, the airline is required to refund you within a week of the canceled flight.
Staying Positive about the Situation
Make the most of your time at the airport.While you’re stuck at the airport, find some ways to relax, rest, and entertain yourself. Try exploring the airport—shop around, get some food or a drink, or get your nails done. You could use also the opportunity to socialize and get to know the other people stuck there as well.
- This is also the perfect time to get some sleep after the stress of the flight change. Set an alarm so you don’t have to worry about missing your next flight and get some rest.
- Have some entertainment with you, such as a book, magazine, puzzle book, tablet, or laptop. Take the opportunity to catch up on your Netflix queue or finish that book you’ve been reading.
Walk around regularly to stretch your legs.Whether in the terminal or on the tarmac, some physical activity can help clear your head and get rid of some anxiety. Get up and walk around for a bit and encourage others to do likewise.
Keep the atmosphere as calm as possible.To pass the time, talk to the people around you and keep things as upbeat and calm as possible. It’s easy to get discouraged, angry, or panicked in these situations.
- Distract children with games, books, and electronic devices.
- Talk to other passengers. Acknowledge their stress and feelings and help de-escalate any intense emotions by gently encouraging a positive outlook.
QuestionHow should I handle irate customers when I am flying?
Licensed Master Social WorkerLicensed Master Social WorkerExpert AnswerLet the appropriate airport personnel handle any irate customers. It is not your responsibility as a passenger to redirect them. If there is a customer near you who is irate, and this bothers you, then ask if you can switch to a different seat, or use your earbuds to drown out the person's complaints.Thanks!
- Book early flights when you are planning your trips if possible, as they are less likely to be delayed.
- Remember that airlines are not required to compensate you for flight delays or cancellations, unless you are bumped off an overbooked flight.
- Some airlines will offer you discounts or extra help in the name of customer service, but it is not legally required—so it pays to be polite (and insured).
- Try to avoid flying in and out of the world's busiest airports, as delays and cancellations are more likely when a high volume of flights are coming and going.
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