How to Handle a Flight Delay or Cancellation

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It has only happened to me once…  but once was enough. A flight delay or cancellation is never fun but a little proactive action + a positive attitude can keep a bad situation from turning worse.

My Flight to Ireland Was Delayed

Multiple delays began to stack up for our flight out of Chicago, and though it hadn't been cancelled, I knew that we were unlikely to make our connection in New York. Knowing I didn't want to be stuck in New York overnight with my daughters, I began to research my options.

My first step was a quick tweet to the airline. Often a social representative can assist much more quickly than a phone rep, so I send a message first, then dial the direct phone number for the airline. Why the direct number? Because most people use the toll-free number.

The social representative was able to re-book our 3 seats on a flight with a code-share partner within minutes- while I was still waiting on hold.

With this information in hand, I made my way to the gate agent hoping our bags could be pulled from our initial flight and loaded onto our new flight, which was set to depart in just over  an hour.

This is where my story had a very happy ending…

The gate agent, seeing that I was traveling solo with two children, made another switch to my flight, this time putting us on a direct flight to Dublin with Aer Lingus- another code-share partner- leaving in 40 minutes.

While our bags arrived a day later, our trip wasn't impacted at all.

Pack Right: Carry-on Necessities for Your Flight to Ireland

Tools to Help Assist If a Flight Delay or Cancellation Occurs

Sleeping in the Airport
Pin this: Don't get stranded at the airport! Tips for handling flight delays and cancellations.

I was fortunate as my flight wasn't direct, or related to local weather. But I also credit the ease of handling the delay to a few things:

  1. I was aware of the delays and changes prior to the airport announcements. I highly recommend installing the app for your airline onto your mobile device for this service alone. Another app that I never leave home without is TripIt, which also notifies you of delays. I also input every aspect of my trip into this app- flights, car rental, lodging reservations, tours… (The Pro version has a few more bells & whistles, but the free version is fabulous for casual travelers.)
  2. I utilized the airline's Twitter account. Most people still make their way to the airline service desk (outside security!!) or place a phone call. Few travelers realize that airlines have social media teams in place for customer service of this nature.
  3. I was polite and thankful for the assistance. Yes, delays and cancellations can be frustrating but taking out those frustrations on people trying to help you only causes the anxiety and stress to spread. A little bit of grace goes a long way.

Tips to get you on your way

  •  Always have both the toll free and the direct phone number for the airline(s) you are traveling on either in your cell phone or written down and placed in your carry on. In addition, have your flight information entered into the airline's app on your phone- quite often you can change your flight at no charge if the delay is mechanical. Bonus: no waiting in line at a counter or on hold.
  • If your flight is delayed long enough- due to weather or mechanical difficulties- that you are going to miss your connecting flight, begin making changes as soon as you can. Be proactive.
  • If you de-plane and people begin lining up at the gate to have flights re-routed (and you don't have a phone) search for another open gate hosted by that airline and ask that agent help you.
  • Remember, it is the airline's job to deliver you to your destination and if they can't do it in a timely manner request that they switch you to another carrier who can.  If they refuse you are within your rights to request a cancellation and receive a full refund. Just be sure to get this guarantee in writing- and make sure it won't impact other portions of your trip!

What About Rule 240?

Though not an official rule anymore, Rule 240 states that in the event of any flight delay or cancellation caused by anything other than weather, the airline would fly you on the next available flight — which does not mean their next available flight.

Many of the legacy airlines still have some or all of rule 240 in their contracts but newer airlines don't have this rule though some will follow it to retain customer satisfaction.  After all, who are you more likely to fly with in the future?  An airline that worked hard to get you to your destination on time- even if it wasn't with them- or an airline who left you stranded without a “sorry for the inconvenience”?

Are You Flying a European Airline? Learn about Rule 261

Under EU rules, airlines must pay compensation for cancelled or heavily delayed flights, but how much you’re entitled to depends on the flight you booked and the amount of time you’ve been delayed by.

The flight must have departed from an EU airport, operating by any airline, or it must be arriving into an EU airport and be operated by an EU airline.

There is a lot to this rule, but if your flight is on a European airline this article will answer your questions.

The Tarmac Rule

Though it has been shown to cause more delays and cancellations, the tarmac rule remains in effect.

The rule requires U.S. carriers operating routes at large and medium hub U.S. airports to establish a contingency plan that provides passengers with adequate food and potable water (“adequate” being defined by the DOT as “a granola bar and bottle of water or similar snack) and any needed medical care “no later than two hours after the aircraft leaves the gate or touches down if the aircraft remains on the tarmac.”

Stranded Overnight

Sometimes it can't be avoided…  Your flight will be cancelled or you will miss your connection and another won't be available until the next day.  If that happens your checked bags will not be available to you so be sure you are prepared- just in case.  Pack your carry-on with delays and cancellations in mind.

Something else to remember: if you have to spend the night due to weather delays, the airline is not required to pay for a hotel.  Their job is to get you to your destination safely and if it's not safe to fly it isn't the airline's fault.  Some airlines will cover your hotel- though you may stand in a line with most of the passengers from your flight for a couple of hours to find out.

And one more bit- be sure to contact your first night's lodging, as well as your transportation (car rental, driver guide, train) to let them know you will be arriving later than planned. (Another great reason to use TripIt- all the information you need is in the palm of your hand!)

Travel Insurance

While sitting in the airport waiting for my flight I spoke with a family from the UK who had a previous holiday extended by 10 days due to the Icelandic volcano eruption.  As we talked about their trip I commented that Europeans were much more likely to purchase travel insurance than Americans.  What I found out was that many European airlines won't let you fly without it.

Whether you agree with that line of thinking or not, travel insurance costs only pennies on the dollar and can help take the sting out of unexpected travel snafus.

Learn More: Travel Insurance & The Coverage You May Not Know You Have

Have You Had Experience with a Flight Delay or Cancellation?

I would love to hear your experiences and input on this topic!  Please share your tips in the comments!

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