From understanding the reasons behind flight delays and cancellations, to knowing your rights as a passenger, navigating through long layovers and extended delays, to utilizing flight tracking tools and travel insurance, this article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of insights, strategies, and best practices to cope with flight disruptions.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Causes Flight Delays & Cancellations
- 2 Impact of Flight Delays and Cancellations
- 3 What to Do When Your Flight is Delayed or Cancelled
- 4 Checking and Interpreting Flight Status Updates
- 5 Understanding Your Rights
- 6 Dealing with Flight Delays and Cancellations: Dos and Don’ts
- 7 Is Travel Insurance Worth It?
- 8 How to Avoid Flight Delays, Cancellations & Missing Your Flight
- 9 Coping With Layovers, Delays and Cancellations
- 10 Flying During Peak Travel Seasons
- 11 Flight Tracking Tools
What Causes Flight Delays & Cancellations
Flight delays and cancellations are unfortunately an inevitable part of air travel, disrupting your travel plans and causing a lot of inconvenience.
Understanding the causes of flight delays and cancellations can be helpful, so you will be able to better predict when a flight will be delayed and be prepared when it happens.
Weather is one of the most common causes of flight delays. Snow, thunderstorms, hurricanes, fog, or extreme heat can all cause flights to be delayed due to reducing visibility, causing runway closures, or disrupting air traffic flow.
Even rain can delay flights sometimes.
Technical and Mechanical Problems
Occasionally, planes will suffer from technical and mechanical issues that will inevitably need to be fixed before they can take off.
These can range from minor repairs to more significant maintenance checks.
Air Traffic Congestion
Many flights during peak travel times or limited air traffic control capacity can both cause flights to be delayed, especially due to the domino effect of planes being unable to take off, land, or taxi on the ground.
Sometimes, airlines have issues with crew scheduling, such as crew members being unavailable due to unexpected circumstances or reaching their maximum duty hours.
Airlines therefore need to find replacement crew before the plane can depart.
Impact of Flight Delays and Cancellations
Flight delays and cancellations can have a significant effect on your travel plans, causing inconvenience, frustration, and unexpected expenses.
These may include:
- Missed Connections and Itinerary Changes: Missed or cancelled connecting flights may require rebookings. Hotel bookings, car rentals, and other reservations may also need to be rescheduled or canceled.
- Financial Loss: Additional costs may include rebooking fees, hotel fees, and transportation costs for alternative travel arrangements.
- Time and Productivity Loss: These include missed appointments, meetings, or events, and the time spent at the airport being unable to work.
- Emotional Stress: Uncertain situations, long wait times, and last-minute changes to travel plans inevitably result in emotional stress, frustration, and anxiety.
- Discomfort and Inconvenience: Being forced to spend long hours at the airport, and perhaps even having to sleep at the airport, can be physically and mentally tiring.
What to Do When Your Flight is Delayed or Cancelled
Flight delays and cancellations are understandably frustrating, but knowing what steps you can take can help.
Stay Calm and Find Out More Information
As soon as you learn that your flight has been delayed or canceled, the first thing to do is to stay calm, even though you will understandably be annoyed or angry.
Then, you should check the flight status provided by the airline on one of the boards, listen for announcements, and head to information desks to learn more about the delay or cancellation.
Contact the Airline
It’s best to contact the airline immediately, so you can explore what options are available to you. Whether that be asking for a refund or rebooking you on the next available flight.
Remember, that other passengers on your delayed or canceled flight will need to do the same, which is why we recommend contacting the airline immediately, so you are first in the queue.
Know Your Rights
While we go into more detail below, it’s important that you understand your rights, including what, if any, compensation you are entitled to.
This will depend on the airline’s own policies, as well as local and international regulations.
Checking and Interpreting Flight Status Updates
Flight status updates are essential in keeping you informed about your flight.
While the codes used to denote the various flight statuses can be confusing to many travelers, they are actually pretty simple to understand.
- On Time (OT)
- Delayed (DL)
- Cancelled (CX)
- Diverted (DV)
- Boarding (BD)
What to Look For
Besides understanding the codes and terminology, it’s also important to look for:
- Flight number
- Departure/arrival time
- Gate information
Keep in mind that all of these can change, so it’s important to be alert and pay attention once you have checked in, and before you have boarded your flight.
Related: Why Do Airlines Change Flight Times?
Understanding Your Rights
It’s important to be aware of and understand your rights as a passenger when flying. While airlines may have specific rules and regulations, these can’t overrule the law.
If your flight is canceled, most airlines will automatically rebook you on their next flight to the same destination for free. However, federal law entitles you to a full cash refund if your airline cancels or “significantly” delays your flight.
Unfortunately, airlines are not required to pay for a hotel, food, or other costs if your flight is canceled in the U.S.
But under E.U. law (EU261), an airline is required to either provide you with assistance at the airport, including food and refreshments, or reimburse your food expenses at the airport. The airline may also pay for a hotel for the night.
It’s important to keep all documentation and evidence of the flight delay or cancellation, including your boarding pass, travel itinerary, and receipts of expenses incurred due to the delay or cancellation.
Additionally, each airline has its own procedures and policies for handling compensation claims, such as submitting a claim through the airline’s website, so make sure you follow them.
One more thing to add is that you may have to be persistent and follow-up if you do not receive a timely and/or satisfactory response.
You may also need to contact and seek assistance from government agencies, consumer protection agencies, or industry ombudsman if the airline is unwilling to pay out.
Dealing with Flight Delays and Cancellations: Dos and Don’ts
While flight delays and cancellations are unfortunately an inevitable part of air travel, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do.
- Stay Calm and Informed: Stay calm and be sure to keep yourself updated with the latest information regarding your flight, whether that be through updates from the airline, airport announcements, or online.
- Know Your Rights: Know your rights concerning compensation, rebooking, refund, accommodations, and meal options.
- Have a Contingency Plan: Having a contingency plan that includes accommodation options, traveling with medications and other essentials, and having a plan B on how to get to your destination can take away a lot of the stress.
- Panic or Blame Airline Staff: Panicking or blaming airline staff won’t get you anywhere and is likely to hinder instead of help your efforts of a resolution.
- Speculate on the Disruption: It’s only natural to speculate about the cause or duration of the delay or cancellation. But this will only lead to unnecessary stress and frustration.
Is Travel Insurance Worth It?
A way to protect yourself against flight delays and cancellations is through one of the 5 types of travel insurance, but is it even worth it?
Well, that depends on a few things.
While travel insurance typically offers coverage for flight delays and cancellations, the extent of coverage can vary depending on the policy – there are travel insurance exclusions to consider, too.
Some policies provide reimbursement for additional expenses, such as meals, accommodations, and transportation, while others won’t.
Most importantly, some policies will pay out for any reason for why your flight was cancelled, while others will only pay out under very specific circumstances.
There are other factors to consider too:
- Cost of Your Trip: When evaluating travel insurance, the cost of your trip, including non-refundable expenses such as flights and accommodations, should be considered.
- Your Travel Itinerary: If your itinerary consists of connecting flights and multiple destinations, travel insurance might be worth it due to the increased likelihood of things going wrong.
- Your Existing Coverage: You may not realize it, but you could have existing travel insurance coverage, including through credit card benefits, homeowner’s insurance, or health insurance that might provide some coverage for flight delays or cancellations.
- Cost of Travel Insurance: It would be wise to compare the cost of the travel insurance policy you are looking at in relation to the potential benefits.
- Your Risk Tolerance: Some people are happy to never buy travel insurance despite being frequent flyers, while others prefer to have that safety net, even if they don’t travel often. So consider your own personal risk tolerance.
How to Avoid Flight Delays, Cancellations & Missing Your Flight
While there is no foolproof way to avoid flight delays and cancellations, there are some steps that you can take that will reduce the likelihood of them occurring.
- Book Direct Flights: Booking direct flights eliminates the need to take a connecting flight, which passengers frequently miss due to factors outside their control affecting their prior flight, and having to deal with long lines during customs and immigration.
- Monitor the Status of Your Flight: Make sure that you stay informed and up to date about the status of your flight, so you are immediately aware of any changes to your flight.
- Allow for a Long Enough Layover: As mentioned, passengers miss flights, especially connecting flights, due to events outside their control. But what is within your control is booking a long enough layover to ensure you have enough time to deal with any unforeseen circumstances and make your flight.
- Be Aware of the Weather: Weather is one of the most common causes of flight delays and cancellations, so make sure you check the weather conditions at your departure, layover, and destination airports, especially during seasons known for inclement weather.
- Be Proactive: If your flight is delayed or cancelled, it’s always best to be proactive. If you are one of the first to contact the airline, you are likely to get more favorable rebooking options.
- Be Flexible: Being flexible by having backup options, such as alternative airports, flights, or travel dates, in case of disruptions can help you avoid or at least minimize the impact of flight delays and cancellations.
- Do You Get Charged If You Miss Your Flight?
- Why You Should Always Cancel Your Flight Instead of Missing It
Coping With Layovers, Delays and Cancellations
Long layovers, extended delays, and cancellations can be challenging and frustrating, though there are some things that you can do to make the most out of the situation, or at least make the time go faster.
- Plan Ahead: Before your trip, it can be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the airport layout, amenities, and services available, such as lounges, dining options, shopping, and activities. Some airports even offer rest areas, showers, and sleep pods.
- Bring Entertainment Options: Whether it’s a book, magazine, movie, music, game, or all of the above, these things can go a long way in keeping you entertained during long delays.
- Get Some Exercise: Simply getting up every so often to stretch your legs can be a good idea to avoid restlessness and stay healthy.
- Get Some Rest: It can be hard to sleep in an airport, but some airports thankfully have designated rest areas, nap pods, or sleeping pods, so you can get some sleep in.
- Stay Hydrated and Well Fed: Make sure that you stay hydrated and eat something while you are stuck at the airport, as dehydration and a lack of proper nutrition can make you feel tired and sluggish.
- Stay Informed and Connected: Make sure that you stay informed and up to date about your flight, as well as staying connected with friends and family, so they are aware of your situation.
Flying During Peak Travel Seasons
Peak travel seasons, such as during the holidays, school breaks, and special events, often results in an increased chance of experiencing flight delays and cancellations.
It’s therefore important to have some best practices and strategies in place.
- Plan and Book Ahead: Due to just how busy peak travel seasons can get, it’s essential to plan and book your flights, accommodations, and transportation well ahead of time. This will also help you secure the best price.
- Be Flexible: While it’s not always possible, it’s preferable if you can be flexible with your travel dates and times during peak seasons, as it can often result in lower prices and fewer crowds.
- Arrive Early: Typically, it’s recommended that you arrive at the airport 2 hours before a domestic flight and 3 hours before an international flight, but during peak travel seasons, it’s better to arrive even earlier, so you can check in and go through security screening with time to spare.
- Pack Smart and Travel Light: Packing smart and traveling light can be a good idea during peak travel seasons, so you can go straight to security screening with just your carry on without having to queue to drop off your bag.
- Check In Online: Checking in online will certainly save you time, as you will avoid long lines at the airport.
- Have a Contingency Plan: In the event that your flight is delayed or cancelled, and your travel plans are disrupted, it’s important to have plans in place to get to your destination on time, whether that be through alternative flights, routes, or transportation.
Flight Tracking Tools
Flight tracking tools in the form of apps and websites can be a good way to manage potential delays or cancellations and stay informed about your flight.
Here are 4 that we recommend.
FlightAware provides real-time flight tracking information, including live flight tracking, departure and arrival times, gate information, and details about your aircraft.
It’s intuitively and well-designed, so you can search for flights by flight number, airline, or route, and receive alerts for changes in your flight status.
FlightRadar24 is another popular option due to its visually appealing map interface that allows you to track flights in real-time, view departure and arrival times, and receive alerts for flight status changes.
3. Airlines’ Official Apps
It’s common for airlines to have their own apps that will allow you to track the status of your flight in real-time.
Most also have helpful features like mobile check-in, boarding passes, and flight rebooking options.
TripIt is great because it helps you manage your travel plans in one place, including your flight itineraries.
It does this by smartly syncing your flight details from your email confirmations and then creating a detailed itinerary that includes your flight status, gate information, and other essential travel-related details.
The app also alerts you when the status of your flight changes, and offers alternate flight options in the event of cancellations and delays.