Sooner or later, it happens to everyone. Your flight is delayed or even cancelled. Problem is, you have a schedule to keep. What is your best course of action? (After mentally cursing, of course).
Often, it depends on several factors: the airline, the reason for the delay or cancellation, your status with the airline – and your problem-solving ability.
Flight delays and cancellations have been in the news lately, according to travel tip site The Points Guy, which notes the following: “March and April have been challenging months for air travel in the U.S. More than 550 flights were canceled across the United States the first Monday in April as airlines worked to mend the weekend’s operational chaos when carriers canceled more than 1,900 flights around the country, according to FlightAware. Another 1,500 were canceled on Sunday. The airlines blamed the snafus, in part, on a series of thunderstorms in Florida.
JetBlue was among the hardest hit airlines, with 373 flights canceled, or about 34% of its schedule. Southwest saw 400 cancellations (10% of its schedule) and Spirit canceled 308 flights (37%). American Airlines canceled 271 flights (8%), while Delta, Alaska and United canceled at most a few dozen each. This was on the heels of the more than 5,000 delayed flights on March 20. Forty-one percent of JetBlue’s flights were delayed Sunday and Frontier saw 44% of its flights delayed.”
The weekend prior to Easter (April 9-10), hundreds more flights were delayed or cancelled.
Pretty grim stats. So, to get back to the original question, what can you do?
Act Immediately: There’s no room for dithering around when it comes to flight delays and cancellations. Before you do anything – get a drink, post a status update, whatever – you need to attack the problem. Why? Because every other passenger on your flight, and likely, other flights, will be going through the same thing, and they too want their problems fixed right away. The longer you delay, the longer your delay is going to be.
Professional Assistance: Using a travel agent to book your flights allows passengers to let a professional handle any problems that may arise. Although travel search engines and airline websites admittedly allow for easy and direct booking, they can’t solve your problems if you’re stuck at the airport. Having travel insurance can also be a worthwhile investment.
On the Card: A credit card that gives you miles and travel protection can be used, if need be, to pay for an airport hotel if you’re stuck for the night.
Stuck for the Day in an Airport? You actually do have some options, say our friends at The Points Guy. Some airport hotels have day rates, allowing a welcome change for those who need a place to shower, give their kids some naptime, etc .
Be Proactive: AARP recommends heading problems off at the pass. Book flights earlier in the day. Remember that a storm or other weather event will have a domino effect, stacking and packing flight delays throughout the day with passengers on late flights subjected to the dreaded overnight stays in the airport. Another preventive strategy is to choose nonstop flights whenever possible, and direct flights after that. The more you have to change planes, the greater the chance of delays and missed connections. (We know, easier said than done, particularly with the increase in airfares).
Watch weather patterns in destination and departure cities (as well as in any connecting cities), in advance of and on the day of your flight. An increasing number of airlines are allowing passengers to change flights with no penalty in advance of severe weather events; however, that is up to the airline.
Another AARP tip is to “book with a direct carrier (such as United and American) rather than a regional partner (United Express or American Eagle, for example). The parent airlines tend to get priority for staffing and airport access.”
Tech Assistance: Download the app for your airline so that you get real-time notifications of delays and cancellations. Additionally, The Points Guy notes, “You can see general flight trends across the country on FlightAware, which gives you a good overview of how a day in the sky looks. Here’s a direct link to the page that focuses on delays. Manually check the status of your flight in the 24 hours leading up to travel on your airline’s website (and check where the plane is coming from, if possible).”
Knowing Your Rights: Customer service is there to help you, but they may not be able to do much, says AARP: “The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to give a full refund to passengers if a flight gets canceled for any reason. Many airlines will try to offer travel vouchers for future trips, but you do not have to accept credit in lieu of cash (or a refund of frequent flier points plus taxes paid). If you choose to be rebooked, TPG editor Zach Griff told AARP reporters, airlines “have to accommodate on the next available flight — even with a competitor airline.” But sometimes these options are only available in person at the airport with a customer service center or with a gate agent.”
However, notes TPG, “If there are no reasonable booking options left with your carrier, ask if there are options on another airline. If the delay is weather-related, and you are on a basic economy ticket or on a low-cost carrier, there might not be other airline options at your fingertips. Still, it’s worth asking and — if possible — presenting available options you have researched yourself.”
Club Level: If you have access to the club lounge for your airline, you’ll find a shorter line and a knowledgeable staff who can help you with the problem. And if you have a lot of time to kill between flights, it’s a more pleasant surrounding than the general waiting area.
US News and World Report says the most important thing to do is familiarize yourself with your airline’s policies in advance; to make that easy, they have included the following links to major U.S. airline sites:
- Alaska Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Frontier Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- United Airlines
Additionally, notes US News and World Report, passengers can stay up to date on their rights by visiting the DOT's online Fly Rights guide.