Let’s face it – air travel isn’t always smooth sailing. Flight delays, flight cancellations, and mechanical issues can put the brakes on your travel plans before you’ve even taken off. But don’t despair. Check out these savvy tips for reducing the chances that you’ll find yourself stranded at an airport… and if the worst happens, we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve to help make surviving it bearable.
Book a non-stop flight
Who needs the extra hassle when traveling? With a non-stop flight schedule, you can bid farewell to layover delays. Your chances of having a flight disruption or being stuck in some airports are minimal. It will isolate any problems to either your point of origin or final destination. Even if there are no direct routes available, keeping connections to a minimum is a great way to ensure fewer potential roadblocks on your journey ahead.
Don’t book the last flight of the day
Take an earlier flight. If something happens, you’ll have time to board an alternate flight. A slight delay is always better than dealing with unexpected overnight stays or napping on questionable carpeting at the airport.
I experienced major flight delays on a recent flight to Nairobi. While on my way to JFK, I received a notification from Kenya Airways that they canceled my original afternoon flight from JFK to Nairobi. I landed at JFK with time on my side.
The pilots for Kenya Airways were on strike. They rerouted me through Doha on Qatar Airways. The new flight resulted in an 8-hour layover at JFK. The TWA Hotel provided a place to relax and regroup. Always opt for an earlier flight if possible, particularly when traveling on international flights.
If you are traveling with children, booking the last flight can be disastrous. If your flight gets canceled, you, along with all the other displaced passengers, will be looking for the closest hotel room for the night should. Rooms with multiple beds will go quickly. If you find yourself on the last flight of the day, it’s not a bad idea to scope out affordable hotel options nearby just in case you need them.
Check your flight status
Check to see if your flight is delayed or canceled before you leave home. There are several ways to track your flight status. My preferred method is using an app.
My favorite flight-tracking app is Flighty.
Flighty will brilliantly track flight delays and flight cancellations, as well as discover alternative flight options. It’s not uncommon to receive a flight status update before it’s issued by the airline! You’ll get everything from gate change notifications, weather, and if you’re a bit of an airplane nerd, aircraft type, how old it is, and how fast it flies. Sorry, Android users. Flighty is currently available only for iOS devices.
Downloading and using the airline app is another excellent way to monitor your flight status. Many airlines also offer real-time status updates through their website or email notifications. This way you’ll be able to stay in the know about whether an airline will arrive on time or if there are any planned delays or cancellations that may affect you.
Watch the weather
Unpredictable weather can create chaotic travel. To get ahead of potential issues, it’s smart to stay informed by monitoring the forecast in advance and while en route. To be proactive, keep an eye out for any major storms that could delay your flight–if they predict later trouble on during the day, you might opt for a morning take-off instead. By staying alert and doing some research beforehand, you might avoid disruption to your flight schedule despite mother nature’s whims.
Winter weather might mean delays in snowy areas while summer storms can bring chaos along coasts–so it’s worth assessing your risks before flying through airports near these regions.
Rebooking a canceled flight
If you have a flight delay or flight cancellation, you’ll want to maximize your time. Get in line to speak with an airline representative at the customer service counter.
Make sure you have the airline’s app downloaded on your mobile device. Likely, they’ve already booked on another flight or soon will be. Check the app to approve your new flight or discover other flight options. While the airline may rebook you on the next available flight, ultimately it’s up to you if that solution works.
If they haven’t rebooked your flight and you can’t find any flight schedules that work for you, try calling them or chatting online. Since you’re already in line waiting to speak with an airline representative, you lose nothing by being on hold as well. You may get some help quickly through the airline’s social media channels. If all else fails, you still have your spot in line.
If there are no available flight schedules that suit your needs through your airline, you could ask the airline to book you on an alternative airline’s flight schedule. Keep in mind that if you have checked bags, this could be a bit more complicated and airlines aren’t required to offer this option. If the delay is because of Mother Nature and you are traveling on a basic economy ticket or with a budget airline, don’t expect any miracles as there might be few choices of hopping onto other carriers.
Know your rights
What are airlines responsible for when your flight is oversold, delayed, or canceled?
To ensure that their flights remain profitable and efficient, airlines strategically overbook flights in anticipation of “no-shows”. Usually, this technique works effectively, but on rare occasions when more passengers arrive than the plane can handle, some travelers get bumped. Passengers may voluntarily give up their seats for some form of compensation. Negotiate, as there isn’t a limit on what you can get.
When facing a flight delay, it pays to ask. While US federal laws don’t require airlines to provide compensation for the inconvenience, some carriers may be more than willing to pick up the tab for meals or even secure overnight accommodations. It never hurts to inquire…. politely.
Also important to know is that they may not be liable for your financial losses resulting from a canceled flight. That means you could be on the hook for any pre-paid expenses such as hotels, vacations, concerts, or lost wages–ouch!
Familiarize yourself with airline policies regarding refundable tickets and contingency plans related to delayed or canceled flights so that if something unexpected happens, you’ll know what your rights are when dealing with a carrier. This can save a lot of time and effort during stressful situations, as knowing these policies will let you get what you’re owed faster and then move on with your trip at least somewhat unscathed.
Make sure that you’ve insured your travel plans. The unexpected has caused many travelers to lose significant amounts of money thinking it won’t happen to them. And yes, even I have lost money on failed travel plans. Travel insurance is a necessity even if you’re traveling domestically.
When dealing with minor issues such as a delayed flight or missing baggage, try not to get too worked up as getting angry usually won’t help the situation. Instead, focus on being helpful yet firm when communicating any requests or questions with customer service representatives.
Keep your devices charged
Don’t let a dead battery ruin your plans. Before stepping out on an adventure, make sure that all of your phones and tech accessories have a fully charged battery. And if you’re traveling by plane or in-between stops at the airport, be sure to take advantage of any convenient charging opportunities. Nothing puts a damper on fun, like being stuck without access to texts or calls due to low battery levels. Better yet, buy a portable charger. Nowadays, many luggage brands include them as part of your carry-on.
On an eventful trip from California, I experienced a flight delay during a connection in Chicago. My phone was dead with no charging port in sight. This was long before airports had charging stations or portable chargers were a thing. The only electronic device I had was my laptop. I logged in, purchased Wi-Fi (free Wi-Fi wasn’t a thing either), and emailed my family to let them know I would arrive late.
Today, I have multiple portable chargers. Small ones that will charge my phone once or twice. Medium ones that will keep me going for a few days. And huge ones that will jump-start a car! You won’t ever find me hunting charging stations in the airport again.
Flying the friendly skies gets friendlier when you achieve status in an airline’s frequent flier program. Logging your miles won’t just fill up that passport, it’ll also result in enhanced service when your flight schedule hits a speed bump.
Members sometimes receive rebooked flights quicker than non-members and receive priority boarding or standby tickets for earlier flights during periods when those options are available due to scheduling changes caused by disruption.
Consider joining loyalty programs for hotels, car rental agencies, and taxis, too; many companies offer discounts or special rewards to repeat customers when they need alternate accommodations or transportation due to schedule changes related to airline operations.
Having elite status could mean stepping to the front of an ever-growing line and skipping past all the headaches that come from navigating flight disruptions.
Use a travel agent
Rather than navigate the waters of disrupted flight schedules on your own, work with a local travel agent. When a delay happens, you could be relaxing in an airport lounge or dining at a restaurant while your travel agent works out the schedule. Avoid that long customer service line. Instead, call your travel advisor.