Surviving flight delays and cancellations

In the past couple of months I’ve had a couple of flight cancellations and delays, both of which I’ve been able to resolve successfully (playing the cards I’ve been dealt at the time). So I thought it would be a good idea to write about a few tips that can make or break your trip, and can make a difference between making it home on the same day or getting stranded until the next day with nothing but an airport bench to sleep on.

Flights

Travel delays will happen. Accept it:

If you fly enough, you will eventually run into flight delays and cancellations. Don’t take it out on the flight crew or the gate agents. They didn’t cause the weather or the mechanical delay. Sympathize with them and tell them you’re sorry they’re having to deal with all the cancellations and the rude people, and they will like you and be more receptive to helping you. Be rude or unreasonable, and they will make sure you are their guest at the airport for the evening. I like to finish every phone call or face to face meeting with “Thank you so much (agent’s name here). You’ve been very helpful”. It goes a long way.

If possible, avoid booking the last flight of the day:

I always try to book an earlier flight depending on my travel schedule. Booking the last flight of the day and flying late at night eliminates options. If you have a mechanical or a weather delay and the flight gets cancelled, well, there won’t be another one to get you out until the next day. I like flying earlier so I have backup flights in case mine gets cancelled. Bonus points if you’re flying away from home: you get to the hotel earlier, when there are better rooms available and a better chance for an upgrade.

Have a back up plan:

This in my opinion is the most important part. A day before I head out to the airport, I start checking the weather forecast. If you suspect there might be weather delays and flight cancellations, you can’t wait until they happen to scramble for a solution, because everyone else will be doing the same thing. Ticket counters will have dozens if not hundreds of people in line, hotels will get full, and you might end up with nothing. Research additional flight options and available hotels in the area ahead of time. If your flight gets cancelled, the agents aren’t going to go out of their way to find you the best option. Be ready to give them available alternative flight numbers and times and have them check for availability with other carriers as well, or try to reroute through a different city. Airlines don’t like to fly you with other carriers, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, and sometimes those are the only available option.

Consider making a speculative hotel booking in case you get stranded:

Two months ago I was flying home out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and there was inclement weather on the way. Like, tornado kind of weather. Suspecting my flights might get cancelled, I made a speculative booking earlier in the day at the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. Since I had until 6:00 p.m. to cancel it, there was no harm on booking it, and I already had an advantage over many other people who might have tried to scramble at the last minute to find a room. It also frees up your time to get on the phone with the airline to look for available flights. In my prior case, it turns out my booking really paid off, as all flights were cancelled that day and I had to stay overnight. Beats sleeping at the airport. If you’re able to get a flight the same day, you can simply cancel the hotel stay for free.

Try to get rebooked as soon as you know you’re already missing a connection:

I’m writing this article on a flight out of PHL to SAT on U.S. Airways after spending 3 hours on the tarmac on an American flight that would eventually get cancelled due to the weather. As we sat on the tarmac coming up on the 3-hour DOT imposed limit of keeping passengers on the tarmac, I figured out I would already miss my connection in DFW (bummer, no Centurion Lounge), so while still sitting on the tarmac I called AA (30-minute wait already at the time) to try to get rebooked on a different flight. Now again, I already had a plan and I knew there was a nonstop U.S. Airways flight to San Antonio, my final destination, a couple of hours later, so at that point it made no sense to connect in Dallas and I went for the U.S. Airways flight, and grabbed the last seat available before someone else could.

If you need to rebook, try heading to the airline lounge instead of the main terminal:

On the prior example, while I was waiting for AA to call me back and we deplaned, I headed straight for the Admirals Club located 4 gates away, bypassing a 50-person line at the main gate trying to get rebooked. I walked into the Admirals Club and was the second person in line. Less than 5 minutes later I had a ticket on the nonstop flight. Other than the free drinks and comfortable chairs, this is hands down the best time an Admirals Club access has really paid off for me. There are far less people and the agents are better able to help you and are generally less stressed out since they don’t have to deal with 100 angry passengers at once.

Have plenty of charge on your phone, and carry a battery booster:

If your flight is delayed, you will need to make phone calls, book rooms, call friends and relatives and alert them of the changes, browse weather updates, etc. On my latest flight zaga, a battery booster came really handy, as my battery almost died from all the phone calls, airline website browsing, etc. If you’re sitting on the tarmac you won’t be able to charge your phone, so be prepared just in case. Carrying snacks like granola bars and not drinking a lot of fluids also helps, because once you hit the tarmac the crew generally won’t let you get up to go to the bathroom and if you have to run around the terminal to change gates or rebook flights, you might not have time to even go buy food.

These are some of the tips that I’ve used on the couple of occasions I’ve been delayed. The list is not all inclusive, but these are the most common that experienced travelers use. If you have additional tips you would like to share, we’d love for you to share them on the comments section below.

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2 Responses to Surviving flight delays and cancellations

  1. dany says:

    Sometimes if I’m traveling on a bad weather day I’ll book a flight for the next day since airlines have the 24 hr cancellation policy. If I’m able to make it on my travel day then I’ll just cancel my ticket when I get to my final destination.

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