Flight Delays, Cancelled Flights – What to Do Next?

Bad weather, mechanical problems and other snafus that can delay or cancel a flight – there’s not much a traveler can do to prevent any of this but there are practical steps you can take to avoid the worst of the fallout. Whether you’re the seasoned pro who knows to get to the gate ahead of time even for flight delays or the less-frequent traveler who still wants to be prepared for all occasions, these tips are for you.

Contact Your Airline First

 Number one tip: Whether it’s an airport delay or flight cancellation, contact your airline – immediately.

Here’s why: Airlines have fewer seats on fewer flights these days, so only a lucky few will be able to grab the next available seats on a flight. Being first in line to snag a seat is key.

If Your Flight is Canceled:

  • Multi-task communications: If your flight is canceled or delayed, immediately get in line for a gate agent; at the same time, call the airline (it may be quicker)
  • Use your elite miles status: If your status entitles you to a dedicated airline contact hotline, use it
  • Follow your airline on Twitter: Airlines have staff monitoring social networks, and may respond more quickly to tweets for help than other communications

Note: There are no federal requirements that force airlines to provide you with any hotel or meal vouchers due to events outside their control such as weather, but airline policies on this vary. When in doubt, ask. Some will provide you with certain amenities.

If Your Flight is Delayed

  • Stay in touch with the airline: Follow the tips above; stay connected to your carrier
  • Don’t be late to the gate: Even if you’ve been told your flight is delayed, stay in the gate area. Delays can evaporate and windows of opportunity for take-off can be short; if you’re not present for boarding, you may be out of luck

Note: Always be at the gate at least 20 minutes before departure, minimum.

How to Avoid Flight Delays & Cancelled Flights

Certain problems may be avoided by booking your airline tickets wisely. Make your reservations with these factors in mind:

  • Book flights with early departures: Avoid the cascading effect of delays on later flights
  • Book nonstops: Fewer stops means fewer airports to possibly get stuck in

Planning the Back-Up Plan

Always have a back-up plan. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Prep your mobile device: Put your airline’s contact numbers in your phone, as well as numbers for other carriers that fly your route
  • Pack a carryon bag: Avoid expensive checked-baggage fees, plus avoid worrying about being separated from things you need in the event of flight delays and airport cancellations
  • Hotel contacts: Have numbers for hotels located in your departure and connecting cities handy; if a storm hits, they’ll fill up fast
  • Pack some food: If a storm is the problem, airport restaurants may close early or open late
  • Keep electronic chargers on you: It could be a very long wait in the airport if your devices go down

Learn more about FareCompare to find the cheapest flights year round.

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Published: December 21, 2010