My Flight is Cancelled/Delayed. What Do I Do Now?

UPDATED February 2017

You already shopped for that great deal but now that it's getting close to take-off, bad weather suddenly appears. Or there's a mechanical problem with the plane. Or something threatens your trip. If weather is to blame, most airlines are pro-active about allowing passengers to change flights with no financial penalty, so give the airline a call (some allow these changes by simply going online).

Other things to do when flights are cancelled or delayed.

When the Flight is Cancelled/Delayed

Not at the airport yet: What to be on the alert for before walking out the door.

  • If the flight is cancelled: The airline will usually put you on the next available flight and if that works out for you, fine – your problem is solved. If you don't like the flight, contact the airline and the sooner the better.
  • If the flight is delayed: If the problem is minor bad weather (a passing thunderstorm, for instance) or a mechanical issue, go to the airport as scheduled because if the skies clear or the mechanics fix the problem earlier than expected, the plane could take off without you.

At the airport: Strategies to get on the first available flight.

  • Get in line: Get in line to talk to a gate agent; if that line is overwhelmed with travelers, try the check-in desks outside security, or even a VIP airline lounge. And while you're waiting in line, do the following.
  • Get on phone: Yes, you're in line but call the airline anyway; you'll increase your odds of getting to someone who can help you, faster. And the sooner you make contact, the better your chances of getting one of the limited seats on the next available flight.
  • Get on Twitter: Most airlines have teams monitoring social media so this it can be the quickest way to get assistance. Follow your airline on Twitter, then ask for their help.
  • Do some homework while you wait: If you can't reach your airline by phone, use it to search for alternative flights to your destination (on your airline and other carriers). This can really speed things up when you finally reach an airline rep.

Before the Flight is Cancelled/Delayed

Things to consider while you book your flight, or anytime before boarding the plane.

  • Know what your ticket entitles you to: If there's a delay or cancellation, can you get your money back? Depends on whether you purchased a refundable or non-refundable ticket. Refundable fares aren’t cheap; recent cross-country tickets on one airline cost $345 for a non-refundable ticket vs. $1,300 for the refundable one. If there’s an occasion you simply cannot miss (and you can’t build in any time in the itinerary for potential delays), you’ll probably be fine with a non-refundable fare but you might want to consider a refundable ticket simply because you never know.
  • Be sure airline has your passenger contact info: Sometimes an airline will cancel a flight days or weeks in advance (especially if they're dropping a route) but if they don’t know how to contact you, you may not hear about it until it's way too late. When booking flights, be sure to include phone number and/or email when prompted.
  • Pack a carry-on: When flight schedules get messed up, checked-bags can be delayed or go missing; a carry-on is always by your side.

When All Else Fails

If you absolutely must be somewhere by a specific time, check out rental cars or taxis, Uber and Lyft, train or bus transportation, even ferry boat service.

But sometimes, nothing works. Face it, hurricanes and other natural or man-made disasters sometimes mean you're not going anywhere but neither is anyone else. Such is life, but console yourself with the thought that you'll be flying again soon.

Rick Seaney
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