What to Do When Bad Weather Delays or Cancels Flights

Bad winter storms seem to get all the attention when it comes to disrupting flight schedules but summer thunderstorms can be just as bad. Bottom line: There are things you can do to help yourself when weather affects your trip, but some of this calls for advance preparation.

Listen: More great tips from travel expert Rick Seaney.

Before You Fly

Booking refundable vs. non-refundable tickets: It would seem like a no-brainer to book a refundable ticket, especially since airline change fees have zoomed to as much as $200. However, refundable tickets are much more expensive than non-refundable airfare so most us don’t even consider them. Plus, when bad weather cancels flights, most airline waive change fees in advance. Weigh your own needs carefully before booking.

Be sure airlines have your contact information: When you book a flight, you will normally be asked to provide a phone or email address (or both). Go ahead and provide this information, so the airline can contact you about delays or cancelations before you hear about it on the news.

Day of the Flight

If your flight is delayed: Some delays are temporary in nature; a mechanical problem or a passing thunderstorm. If this is the case, go to the airport anyway because if the delay is shorter than anticipated (the mechanical problem is fixed quickly, or the storm is less severe than first thought), the plane could leave earlier and if you’re not on it, you’re out of luck. If you look out the window and see 10 inches of snow and it’s clear no planes are going anywhere for a while, proceed to the next section.

If your flight is canceled: In this case, you have several options.

Option 1 – Do nothing: If you do nothing, the airline will almost always book you on another flight; however, it may be days later, and if you don’t want that, you must contact your airline.

Option 2 – Rebook your flight: In order to get on the next available flight out, you must act quickly because everyone else will be trying to catch the next plane out, too. The key is getting in contact with the airline and the key to doing that is multi-tasking:

  • Get in line. If you’re at the airport, find a gate/desk agent and get in line.
  • Get on the phone. Call the airline while you wait in line; you may get a quicker response. [Suggestion from a reader: If all lines are busy, try calling the airline’s international number, but use Skype or a similar type program to keep costs down]
  • Get on Twitter. Airlines monitor social media carefully and this could get you the quickest response of all
  • Get online. If you can look up alternate flights you can help speed the process with the airline rep. And consider looking at flights to hubs outside the bad weather zone – even if it’s not your final destination – because you might more easily find a flight with available seats to your city from a storm-free airport.

Option 3 – Cancel your flight: Before canceling, confirm with your airline what if any penalty you’ll have to pay. Most will waive change fees but refunds are unusual; you are more likely to be given a voucher good for travel within the next 12 months.


Published: February 2, 2014