What do you do if your flight is canceled or delayed?

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 03/01/22 •  5 min read

(Note: This was written on Friday, February 25)

Today’s blog post comes to you from the lovely XYZ Airport Hotel at Logan International in Boston, Massachusetts.

Why is that even worth noting? Because I’m cooling my heels here waiting for a flight the day after tomorrow. Winter Storm Oaklee is stirring things up in New England. Which is good, because after a pretty low snow year, it’s nice to see it begin to pile up. The bad part is that it coincided exactly with my plans to ski out West.

Just my luck.

The result is that my flight tomorrow has been cancelled. Which is a real bummer, since we drove to Boston yesterday to stay ahead of the storm so we’d be sure to be here for our 6AM flight (it’s a three hour trip in good conditions). And now we can’t leave for another day. That makes three nights and two loooooong days in an airport hotel.

We’re not the only ones going through this. More than 1,300 flights across the US were cancelled because of the storm, with many, many more delayed.

There’s no question that flight issues are of particular interest to skiers. After all, many of us choose to fly in the winter, when the weather can be especially difficult. So it’s good to know what to do, in the event of a delay or cancellation.

What to do if your flight is delayed

• Keep checking the status of your flight before you head out, in case there are any delays or changes to your schedule. It may be helpful to download the app of the airline you’re using so you can track your flight and any schedule changes.

• There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed. Every airline is different, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the airline’s policies. As a general rule, however, airlines will normally rebook you for no additional fee or give you a full refund.

• If the delay is caused by an act of God, such as bad weather, and you’re stuck somewhere overnight, you’re on your own when it comes to meals and lodging. If it’s a mechanical or staffing issue causing the delay, you may be able to score vouchers for free meals or a hotel room, rather than camping out on a chair overnight.

• Before you go, it might be worthwhile to get travel insurance or check into your credit card’s travel insurance policies. (This pertains to flight cancellations, too.) You may be able to get fairly compensated regardless of what’s within the airline’s control. Be sure to document everything so it’s easier to file the claim. By the way, I highly recommend this. Thanks to travel insurance, I’ll be compensated for my lodging tonight.

• If you’re on the plane and it gets delayed: For domestic flights, they can’t keep you on the plane for more than three hours. It’s a four-hour rule for international flights. That means they need to get you back to the gate in time to get off before three or four hours elapse.

What to do if your flight is cancelled

• If it’s canceled by the airline, you’ll either be accommodated on a later flight or, if you decide not to travel, you’re entitled to a full refund under federal law. If the airline doesn’t want to provide you with a cash refund, that doesn’t mean that you have to settle for a voucher. Follow up and be persistent.

• If you’re at the airport and you decide you still want to travel, get in line to speak with a gate agent to discuss your options. You’ll typically be placed on the next flight with available seats.

• While you’re in line, call the airline’s customer service number to see if you can get help that way. If the wait is too long, consider trying one of its international numbers, which you can find on the airline’s “Contact Us” page. You may have cell phone charges, but the wait time could be significantly less.

• If there are no reasonable booking options left with your carrier, ask if there are options on another airline. If the delay is weather-related and you’re on a basic economy ticket or on a low-cost carrier, there might not be other airline options available.

• See my post about Travel Insurance under What To Do If Your Flight Is Delayed. Seriously, I can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve had to file claims a few times, and it always pays off.

• I’m sure I don’t need to say this to anyone reading this blog, but it really helps to be polite and respectful to anyone who’s trying to help you, whether it’s in person or on the phone. Believe it or not, this will increase your chances of being accommodated and may even lead to an upgrade on your next flight.

Good luck, and may all your flights be on time!

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