The Storm has Cancelled/Delayed My Flight – Now What?

You’re scheduled to fly even as a major storm approaches. Or a brief interlude of snow or thunder and lightning appears just in time to delay (or cancel) your flight.

Bad weather can affect flights year-round – in fact summer storms can be far more disruptive than winter storms – but there are things you can do. What to know if the worst happens.

My Flight is Cancelled/Delayed – What Now?

First thing to do is to be informed and stay informed.

  • Be sure airline has your contact information: Go to your reservation and be sure you added your phone number and email (if not, do that now). If an airline can’t reach you, they can’t let you know about problems.
  • Be sure you have airline contact info in phone: Add the airline’s number to your list of contacts, just in case.
  • Stay up to date: FlightStats has excellent, up-to-date maps pinpointing delay problems at airports in the U.S. and around the world. FlightStats also has flight status tracking tools.
  • Get in touch with the airline: Airlines often announce they will waive the steep change fees for those who cancel flights before the storm hits. If you don’t cancel, the carrier may do it for you; in some cases, they will then book you on what they expect will be the next available flight, or they may not book you on anything. Stay on top of this, to be sure you get the flight you want.
  • Know your options: If your flight has been cancelled or significantly delayed and you must fly as soon as possible, see what all your options are. Example: Can you get a seat on your airline’s next available flight? If not, can you get a seat on a competitor’s flight? Is there an alternative flight with empty seats at another airport within driving distance? Note: Generally speaking, airlines are not obligated to book you on a competitor but they may do this as a courtesy, or you can do it yourself if it’s important enough to fly and sort out the question of ‘who pays’ later.
  • There are delays and delays: Don’t go far if the airline says a flight is delayed; if there’s a big storm, yes, it could be hours before the flight takes off, but if it’s a minor matter (a quick moving storm, a mechanical issue) and the problem is fixed sooner than expected, if you’re not at the gate the plane will leave without you.
  • Keep your cool: During bad weather airline employees may be overwhelmed with long lines and callers on-hold; stay calm and polite by remembering that the airline isn’t to blame for Mother Nature. Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a whole lot easier for airline employees to help a polite passenger than the one who’s screaming at them.
  • Forget hotel vouchers: A number of airlines used to offer stranded passengers hotel vouchers, but in some countries (including the U.S.) there is no obligation to do so. However, it never hurts to ask – just don’t expect much. If it’s clear a big storm is heading your way, don’t go to the airport or you may get stuck there.
  • Patience: There is not a fix for everything travel situation, and a terrible storm is one of those. Acceptance may be your only option but contact your airline to be certain you’re in line for the next available flight you want.

No Storm Near You? Be Careful Anyway

Don’t get complacent: Delays and cancellations can have a domino effect on flights across the country. Monitor your flight even if outside the storm zone to be sure you’ll be taking off when you expect to. Or not.

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Updated: November 10, 2016