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How to Survive Flight Delays and Cancellations

Written by Mandy Voisin

We’ve all fallen victim to (or known someone who’s experienced) this frustrating situation: your flight is delayed 30 minutes. And then it’s an hour. And then three. Sometimes, it’s cancelled altogether after hours of waiting and you have to, yes, wait even longer as a new plane is chartered and tickets are reissued.

The bad news? There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s nothing the gate agent can do about it either, which is something to consider the next time you want to give “the man” a piece of your mind about your lost time and missed meetings. So instead of losing your cool with an airline employee, the best thing to do is plan ahead and move quickly following the dreaded announcement.

Here are our top five tips for how to make the best out of a bad situation:

Call the Airline

See that massive line of people with folded arms demanding to speak to the gate agent? Yeah, you can skip that by calling the airline directly. Get your flight info ready while you’re on hold and have them rebook you — preferably on the next flight out (there’s also rumors about an old “Rule 240”, which says that major airlines have to offer any available seat on the next flight out, even if it’s a competitor. BUT you’ll have to check your airline’s rules before citing this since many don’t honor it anymore). The earlier in the day you schedule your flight, the better chance you have of snagging a seat on the next one, so keep that in mind next time you’re booking.

BUT if you prefer good old-fashioned, face-to-face customer service – there’s a great trick for that, according to Senior Vice President of Supplier Relations and Partnerships for OneTravel’s very own parent company Fareportal, Tom Spagnola.

“I don’t want to give away my ‘secret’ but it works for me most of the time,” explains Spagnola. “I’m not a member of any of the airlines’ private clubs but they do help accommodate customers. It is much quieter, a lot less stressful, and only a few people that need help. The regular customers end up at the regular customer service desk and it turns into complete mayhem.”

Get Some Compensation

Obviously, the type of compensation you’re eligible for depends on how delayed your flight is. For one to several hours, you should at least get some meal vouchers and free Wi-Fi. Longer than that and you may be eligible for a flight voucher. But know your rights, because if you’re delayed even further you could be entitled to rebooking on a flight of your choosing, a hotel for the night, or even a completely refunded ticket (Europe has its own set of rules that also apply to foreign travelers, which you can check out here). Even if their answer is “no”, it’s worth asking for something. After all, time is money.

Check Alternative Routes

If the flight is seriously delayed or cancelled and there are no reasonable flights out with the same airline, ask for a refund and shop around. Very often, other airlines will work with you, especially if they have availability for you to fly on stand-by. But be sure not to get stuck with a worse route — especially in the winter months, because the more layovers, the higher chance you have of getting even more delayed.


Plan Ahead

Maybe this isn’t helpful advice if your flight is currently delayed or cancelled, but next time, be sure to plan ahead — especially during the winter months when bad weather can delay flights. Pack as lightly as possible (to avoid checked bags getting lost or rerouted) and bring everything you’ll need for a potentially delayed flight. Pack a jacket or coat and earplugs if you’ll be stuck overnight, chargers for your devices, a book, and plenty of food. A toothbrush is a small thing that can also go a long way towards making your waiting experience a little better — especially if there’s the potential to be stuck overnight.

Notify Important Parties

If family and friends or business colleagues are planning to pick you up, they should be notified as soon as possible. And if you’re missing meetings, see if you can attend it remotely. You may as well work while you wait.

Think we missed anything? Feel free to post your delayed/cancelled flight horror stories below and any tips or tricks you learned the hard way. 

About the author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet.

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