What To Do When You Have a Flight Delay

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Flight delays – everyone hates them right?

I certainly do, and I’m writing this right now from Denver International Airport, where I have exactly this problem. My flight to the UK, meant to leave at 5.35pm is now estimated to be departing at 9.23pm. What a pain. But, what should you do when you have a delay to your flight?

The Big Question – “What To Do When You Have a Flight Delay?”

what to do when you have a flight delay

Firstly – Stay Calm!!

This cannot be understated. It’s frustrating for sure, for everyone involved. The airline is not trying to ruin your holiday. There is not a grand conspiracy against you. It’s just bad luck. And it’s affecting everyone.

My biggest pet peeve with flight delays is when the airline doesn’t communicate. Fortunately, at the moment, many airlines are adding great features to their Apps – which notify you of any delays, and even give you the option to re-book.

We tend to fly United Airlines more than any other, because our closest major airport is Denver, and because they offer a ton of routes all over the world that mostly seem to line up with where we tend to travel (including a direct flight to London). Their App is really good, check out these features –

1 – It updates your flight information for delays
2 – It offers you the opportunity to re-book via the App on another United flight / route. This option is free and easy and beats waiting in line for an agent to try and find you a flight
3 – It tracks your baggage for you, and in the event of a bag being on another flight, will track it.
4 – It holds all your frequent flyer information, as well as upgrades, lounge passes and mileage accrual for elite status (sadly not something I ever get these days)
5 – It will also help you change seats and request upgrades, as well as see what the standby list looks like.

This post almost sounds like an advertisement as I’m writing it, but, it really isn’t. This is the second time in a few months that it’s been really helpful – and I LOVE that an airline, that, let’s be fair, has had its share of bad press does something right.

What Steps Can You Take When Your Flight is Delayed

When thinking of your next course of action, consider the following :

  • Will you miss a connection?
  • Will your vacation be shorter, or will you miss a special event you’re travelling for?
  • Are you on your outbound leg, or the return journey?
  • Will you arrive back home late for an important event?
  • How long is the delay?

Missed Connection?

If you will miss your connection, your ideal option is to get on another flight, or re-route your trip. No one likes being stuck in a connection location.
If you are able to find another route that will get you to your final destination, or to your connection city in time, do that. An airline App can be your best friend to manage this. There is nothing worse than trying to get through to an agent on the phone when you’re already stressed. If you can’t manage this through the App, try and talk with a gate or customer service center agent.

One major tip on this – if you re-route via the App, you still need to request via a gate agent that your bags need re-routing also. 

Will You Miss The Event You’re Travelling For?

This is a big one. When you are travelling for a specific purpose, and your flight is delayed to the point where you will miss it, it’s the worst. You’ve spent all that money, taken time off work – all potentially for nothing.
The best thing to do in this case – try and rebook, and even ask the airline if they can re-route you on another airline. Stay calm, be polite and explain your situation. I’ve had airlines put me on completely different airlines to get me to my destination in these cases.

Tip for this – only major carriers will do this. Budget airlines, such as Frontier, will not. They don’t have network relationships like Star Alliance or One World, and they don’t codeshare. This has become a red line for my personal travel after a one and done experience with Frontier. Even better – when you’re booking try and keep your flights within one group of airlines, like Star Alliance, and it is then much easier to move your booking around. If you book through the airline’s website, this helps. Booking through a third party travel agency can make a situation more complicated.

Are You at Home, or Away?

If you are delayed at home, can you just rebook for the following day and thus get to sleep in your own bed, at zero cost, or will you have to incur costs to stay in a hotel? If your delay is weather-related, airlines have zero responsibility to pay for your hotel costs, although, rarely, some will. This is much more likely for mechanical problems.
If your flight departs out of the EU, for example, there are specific rules governing compensation for delayed flights. For the US, there are no such government mandated provisions.

Again – if you’re able to rebook your flight to get you home instead of staying in a hotel somewhere, ask – it can’t hurt!

How Long is Your Delay?

Everyone hates being late – you can be back late for work, have to re-schedule an appointment, etc. But – keep perspective. Try not to schedule important appointments the day after you return from a trip, that way, it will decrease your stress level if you do encounter a travel delay.

If your delay is just an hour or two, my advice, unless you miss a connection, is to simply roll with it. There is nothing a bad attitude will do to make the plane take off quicker, and if it is a mechanical issue, you really don’t want that rushed. Safety is more important, right?

If your flight is delayed by a lot, and you haven’t been able to change or re-book your route or flight, consider asking the airline for a goodwill gesture. Remember – US law does not mandate any compensation, but if you’re polite, ask nicely and explain how you were inconvenienced, sometimes the airline will offer passengers some form of compensation in the form of travel vouchers or frequent flyer miles. The amount of the gesture usually depends on how much you fly and thus how good of a customer you are for the airline.

A recap – our tips on what to do when you have a flight delay!

  • Use the airline’s App
  • Stay calm and polite
  • Try and solve the problem by re-routing/re-booking your flight if you can
  • Book flights with longer layovers / connection times to take the stress off a small delay (1-2 hours)
  • Wherever possible, keep your flight within one airline alliance partnership
  • If you have mileage / status with an airline, it can help
  • Don’t schedule important appointments for the day after you travel. Try and give yourself a buffer to account for delays.
  • Ask the airline for a goodwill gesture for longer delays (4+ hrs)

Sometimes life just happens. Whether it be weather, mechanical problems, screw ups or whatever. Be patient. No-one is doing it on purpose, no-one wants you to miss a connection, or a special occasion. But, it can and does happen. Be kind, be patient and try to be understanding, then work to solve the problem!

Headed to Calgary? You’re not going to want to miss Moraine Lake!

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