Flight Delays or Cancelations: Dos and Don'ts

Winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21, but forget the calendar – it’s here with a vengeance – and flights are being delayed and canceled by the thousands. The first thing to do is not to panic. Then check with your airline (we have a list of links to U.S. carriers below).

Listen: Rick Seaney‘s tips from his own delayed travels.

Know what will (and won’t) get through security

Don’t Panic – Here’s Why

DON’T panic. Winter weather will always be with us, and it will always snarl transportation. Accept this but know the steps available to you to get on your way again. And here is one thing you don’t have to worry about and the reason not to panic: Most airlines will not leave you high and dry. They will not cancel your flight and simply say, “Sorry!”

  • Most airlines will automatically book you on the next available flight – and they will tell you this*.

*Or they will if you included your contact info when you booked the flight, including email addresses and phone numbers. Be sure to add this information every time you make reservations.

Do Take Advantage of Fee Waivers

Normally, airlines charge as much as $200 for the privilege of making a change to an itinerary. Not when bad weather threatens.

  • DO take advantage of airlines waiving change fees. Many are doing this proactively and if you don’t have to fly immediately, you don’t have to hassle with any of this. Cancel your flight and take it another time.

Get the Flight You Want: Dos and Don’ts

The problem with automatic booking: The “next available flight” may not be one you want. So, passengers must be pro-active. Here are some of the simple steps you can take to get what you want (or closer to your ideal):

If you’re at the airport:

  • DO get in line: If you’re at the gate, get in line at the desk to change flights. Or try the airline counter as you enter the airport – it may be less busy. If you have a membership for an airline lounge, go there since the airline rep inside will likely be least busy (and this might be the time to spring for a lounge day-pass just to gain access to these folks).
  • DO get on the phone: While you’re standing in line, get on the phone to your airline, too. You never know which will get the quicker response. You elite flyers should get on your special hotline number.
  • DO get on social media: Twitter is often extremely responsive, although if they’re dealing with thousands of followers looking for help, responses may not come as quickly as usual.
  • DO get your airline’s app for your phone. A good way of keeping informed.
  • DON’T be a jerk. Be patient and pleasant. The airline representatives did not make it snow (or cause that monsoon or hurricane) and take no delight in your plans being messed up. We’ve heard many anecdotal stories over the years from airline representatives who tell us it’s a lot easier to find a good flight for a pleasant passenger than for one who is screaming at you.

If you’re not at the airport:

  • DO contact your airline immediate by phone and Twitter.
  • DON’T believe everything you hear. This is especially true if you see that your flight has been delayed for just an hour or two due to an isolated bout of weather or maybe a mechanical problem. If the weather clears (even briefly) or the mechanical problem is fixed (or they locate another plane), the flight could leave as scheduled and if you’re not there it will take off without you.

Airline Contact Information

Click the airline to be linked to its latest weather and cancelation information. Most airline websites also have Twitter links on their homepages.


Published: December 9, 2013