Flight delays are inevitable.
However, if you’re able to react accordingly, you’re able to always come out ahead. For some people they view flight delays as a pure disruption, something they have not control over. For me, I view them as a challenge – an opportunity to make things right, and an opportunity to put me in control of my reservation.
There’s various flight delays – whether it be because of weather, mechanical issues, air traffic control limitations, etc. This guide will view reacting to flight delays at a 30,000 foot level (no pun intended), as a general overview.
Know Alternative Options
If your flight is cancelled, know your alternate options to your destination. Look up the schedule for not only your airline, but other carriers as well. It’s worth noting that while a carrier such as Delta or American can re-book you on United, for example, they often cannot re-book on budget carriers such as Southwest and Spirit. Be ready with options that will get you to your destination city, and also look at options that may route through other cities, too.
- Cancelled flight to JFK? Try La Guardia instead.
- No flights left for the evening from Washington DC to Los Angeles? Try routing through Chicago, Dallas or Denver.
- Nothing left in economy? Try asking for first class.
- Can you leave your departing airport to drive to an alternate airport and then fly from there?
Not only is looking at alternative flights important, but also the flight loads of those new options. If those flights are sold out or overbooked, they’re not going to help you any.
Know Where Your Aircraft is Coming From
If your flight is delayed due to weather, and the incoming aircraft is scheduled to come from an area that’s being affected by that same weather, chances are it’s not going to even make it to you. Sure, aircraft swaps happen and things can be adjusted, but make sure you pay attention to where the specific aircraft is coming from. Don’t look at the flight number – you’re looking for the actual flight path of the specific aircraft that’s going to be flying your flight next. How can you look this info up? Sometimes it’s displayed in the airline’s app, although if you want a more accurate record, check with an airline representative or call their customer service number.
Go to the Club
One of the best advantages of having an airline club membership is being able to see an agent without having to wait in an enormous line. When a flight gets canceled or delayed, a hoard of people are going to run to the gate agent. Be smart and go to the airline club. There, you’ll find a limited queue of people and more personalized attention where the agent will be able to spend more time with you, in turn possibly coming up with a more creative routing or option to get you where you need to go. Waiting for an available agent at the gate will not only cost you time, but may cost you available seats on alternate flights.
If you don’t have club access, there’s a quick trick that might help. Leave security. Yep, that’s right. Leave security and go directly to ticketing and check-in. If everyone’s inside the secure area when the plane gets delayed or canceled, you’ve now found no lines on the outside. Of course, if the line for security is long to get back in, it might not help, but having a program like Pre-Check on your side might expedite things a bit.
Know the Rules
Unfortunately, if there’s a weather delay, the airline isn’t obligated to put you up in a hotel for the night, though if you ask, they might be able to give you a voucher or coupon for discounted pricing. If the delay or cancellation is their fault, they’re obligated to help you out – whether that’s re-routing you, or putting you up for the night. Know the rules behind your specific situation, specifically what the FAA mandates the airlines to do. Worry about compensation later, and deal with getting to your destination first. I recommend not booking a hotel or alternative transportation with your own money and then expecting to get reimbursed later – instead, as for vouchers and pre-payment or arrangement from the airline. You don’t want to be stuck with a bill that won’t get reimbursed.
If you’re on an award ticket, usually the airline can re-book you into a full revenue class of service. If you get a stubborn agent who only wants to look for award availability, hang up and call again. Delays and cancellations can be your friends on award tickets, since they’ll usually open the door for ticketing wide open and allow you to then grab any seat. You may also be able to avoid the maximum permitted mileage as well, which is the maximum amount of miles you can travel on a given fare (for example, you usually can’t fly Atlanta to Chicago, via Los Angeles).
If you’re delayed or canceled, use things to your advantage. Sure, the next flight out may not have economy available, but if there’s first class seats still for sale, an agent may be willing to assign one to you, or bump an elite up just to make sure you’re on the flight. Besides alternative airports, think of alternative routings. Yes, routing from JFK to Nashville via Dallas isn’t the most direct, but if the option gets you there, it works.
If there’s a weather delay, don’t move your flight from a 737 option to one on a CRJ. Chances are, the CRJ is going to get cancelled. Stay on as big of a plane as possible, since sometimes those planes will make it out, while the smaller regional jet aircraft won’t. The same principle applies with the incoming aircraft, too. Smaller regional jets might get diverted, while a larger, mainline jet might not. Nothing guaranteed, but it’s always a better bet to be a on bigger plane in these situations.
During a cancellation or delay, a program like ExpertFlyer can be your best friend. It allows you to monitor how many seats are still for sale on an aircraft. When a delay or cancellation happens, people scramble to get on the next available flights – whether direct or via a connection. If things fill up, you can set an alert to tell you that a seat has become available. If you approach an agent and they tell you there are no options, or the options they give you don’t help, you can be one step ahead by knowing the flight loads using a system like ExpertFlyer.
What tips and tricks do you have for what to do during a flight delay or cancellation?
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