You’re all packed for your trip. You’ve double-checked all your flights, gotten to the airport early, and even breezed through security screenings (for once!). What could go wrong? Well… Mother Nature isn’t feeling your “plans” right now and a storm is a-brewin’. Surprise! Your flight is delayed, or worse, canceled.
No matter if the delay is from bad weather, an overbooked flight, or some mechanical issue, flight delays and cancellations are not only inconvenient, but often infuriating. But whether you’re stuck in the airport during the mad holiday rush or delayed for a long-awaited getaway, there are ways to survive flight delays without losing your mind. Our travel experts weighed in with insider tips for how to get you where you need to go with all your sanity intact when you finally reach your destination.
Your Rights as a Passenger
Every airline has different policies when it comes to delays or overbooking. If you suspect delays (or have fallen prey to delayed flights in the past), look up your airline’s policy in order to arm yourself with as much ammo as you can to reach your destination. Here are the most common situations passengers find themselves in during a delay or a cancellation…
Bumped From an Overbooked Flight?
When you are involuntarily bumped due to overbooking, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires that the airline compensate you if they can’t book you on another flight to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival. If they can only get you there one to two hours of your original arrival time, they owe you 200% of the one-way ticket price to your destination, up to $650. If the airline can’t make these time requirements at all, it owes you 400% of the fare, up to $1,300. Should your airline book you on another airline instead, it has to pay for all of your airfare expenses.
How About a Mechanical Issue?
The vagueness of, “We’re delayed due to a mechanical issue,” can be infuriating, but try to have patience with this one. Flight crews run all sorts of pre-flight checks to ensure the safety and operational standards of the aircraft. During those checks, sometimes they find something that needs fixing, and they are required to resolve it before the plane can take off.
What makes this so frustrating for passengers is simply not understanding everything that a mechanical delay entails. For example: “The air conditioning in the main cabin is not working,” may seem like a trivial issue when you’re relying on that flight to make your connection. However, the AC systems not only cool the cabin for comfort, but they also cool critical systems that keep the plane operational during a flight.
Mechanical delays range from minor to major, but the airline isn’t obligated to compensate you until the flight is canceled outright. If your flight is canceled for a mechanical issue, they will re-book you on their next available flight at no charge. According to Transportation.gov, if that results in a significant delay, find out if another carrier has space on a better flight and ask your original airline if they will endorse your ticket with the other carrier. This isn’t easy! It will likely take some major sweet talking and perhaps hours on the phone with customer service reps, but it is worth a try. It has worked for us before!
What If Weather Is to Blame?
If your flight is canceled or delayed due to weather events such as snowstorms, hurricanes, fog, or lightning, the airline isn’t obligated to give you financial compensation or a comped hotel room. Weather is considered outside of the airline’s control, so there’s not much they can do to change the outcome.
The good news is that airlines will generally waive ticket change fees and automatically re-book you on the next available flight to your final destination. Some airlines even allow you to change your ticket completely or get a partial refund. Again, check your airline’s policies ahead of time. We know this one isn’t fun, but for weather delays, you’ll just have to wait them out.
Stuck on the Tarmac?
We know the feeling. Sometimes flights get delayed on the tarmac for a variety of reasons that pilots don’t have control over. Air traffic could be backed up for example, and your plane just has to wait its turn to take off. Unfortunately, you don’t get any compensation for tarmac delays.
It can be uncomfortable, but the Department of Transportation says you cannot be kept on a grounded plane for more than three hours on a domestic flight (or four hours on an international flight) without letting you off. What’s more, the airline must provide food and water after two hours and must update passengers every 30 minutes about what’s going on.
When in Doubt, Ask for Assistance
Don’t forget to just ask. Depending on your circumstance, the airline may be required to supply refreshments, food vouchers, accommodations for overnight stays, and transportation to and from the airport. Try not to yell at the gate agents. It’s not their fault if a flight was canceled, and acting like a loon isn’t going to make them more able to help you.
How to Survive a Delay
No one wants to be delayed, but it happens. As always, preparation is key to surviving a flight delay. Here are five tips to make your stint in the airport a little bit less stressful.
1. Pack With Delays in Mind
Always keep important items such as medicine, business papers, valuable items, electronic chargers, and credit cards in your carry-on. It’s also a good idea to have extra toiletries (in three-ounce containers) with you as well as a fresh pair of underwear in case you are separated from your checked bags for a while. Books and entertainment also can help make a long delay more tolerable, so make sure all your personal entertainment technology is fully charged and easily accessible.
Whenever your trip allows, pack in a carry-on instead of a checked bag. If you end up changing flights last minute, the gate agents and customer service reps can’t change the route of your already checked bag. But if all you need is what you have with you, your itinerary will be much more flexible.
2. Minimize Your Time in Line
If your flight is canceled, you can bet that everyone at your gate will bee-line for the nearest customer service desk. Next thing you know, you’re standing in line with 100 people in front of you. Traveling with a buddy? Cut down your wait time by sending a member of your party to scope out a less busy service desk elsewhere in your terminal. Try actually calling the airline as well. You might be able to have all of your questions answered on the phone before you even reach the front of the line.
3. Crash the Lounges
If you do end up with hours of airport time to kill, maximizing your comfort will maximize your sanity. “Go to one of the airport lounges. Not only will you have a comfortable spot to wait with free Wi-Fi and snacks, but you’ll also get helped and re-booked faster by the agents in the lounge, assuming you visit the lounge for the airline you’re flying,” said Debra Schroeder, founder of the blog Traveling Well for Less.
Don’t qualify for free access? You can still get all the perks of a lounge for a day-use fee of usually $50 or less without a preferred frequent flyer status.
4. Go Explore
If you’re stuck, might as well make the most of it. Take this extra time to go explore the stores, restaurants, and other offerings at the airport. Some airports have spas, play areas, and salons. Make a game with the kids by discovering these unique places, browsing the local artwork that adorns most airport walls, or relaxing with a long massage.
“There is a growing trend of airports with significant art exhibits. Atlanta has a massive one. I was delayed there for eight hours, but it was like being in a museum, so it could have been much worse,” travel writer Rebecca Renner said.
5. Use Your Credit Card Perks
Your travel credit card may have airport and airline perks you can use to make your delay more comfortable.
“Get the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card,” says Aubrey Menarndt of Menarndt Global Consulting. “It will make your travel life so much easier. You can wait in a lounge (the card provides access) while Chase uses their direct phone numbers to rebook your tickets for you. Game changer!”
If You Have to Stay Overnight
If you’re stuck or delayed overnight, opt for a hotel room even if it’s not comped by the airlines. Having a comfortable bed to wait out your delay is 1,000 times better than sleeping on the floor or in the uncomfortable chairs at the airport.
Many of your favorite chains have locations near major airports, like Fairfield Inn & Suites Raleigh-Durham Airport/Brier Creek near Raleigh/Durham in North Carolina, the Holiday Inn and Suites Chicago O’Hare – Rosemont at Chicago O’Hare, the Marriott Courtyard New York JFK Airport in NYC, the Crowne Plaza Seattle Airport, or the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Houston Intercontinental Airport.
Sleeping in a hotel will do wonders for relieving the stress of flight delays, especially if you have your family in tow. With Room Key, you can search for hotels by using the airport as your point of interest. Just enter the airport name in the search bar, and we’ll show you the hotels in the immediate area so you don’t end up in a hotel that takes a 30-minute Uber ride to reach. Unlike those other online booking sites, when you use Room Key to search, you will book directly with the hotel itself which results in better prices and a better overall experience… despite your travel delays.