Family Vacation Tips

How to handle delayed or cancelled flights

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 18, 2015 9:54:00 AM / by Mary Ellen Nunes

Mary Ellen Nunes

 airport_United_plane_2Let’s be honest, even the best laid plans can go awry.  You just can’t predict some things, and top of that list is predicting when flights will be delayed or cancelled.

I have been accused of having bad flight mojo.  I own it – my husband and I like to go away for my February birthday, when weather can be pretty unpredictable.  I have also had a few bizarre trips where I just can’t seem to get a perfect flight.  Chances are you won’t have my flight mojo (unless I am on your flight!) but it doesn’t hurt to know how to handle things.

No one likes to be stuck at the airport when they really want to get their vacation started.  While you can’t control when this may happen, you can control whether it’s just a hiccup or you let it wreck you trip. Here are a few tips:

Check your flight times before you leave home.  If you have a short drive to your airport, it helps to check before you leave the house.  A two hour delay at home is easier to manage than 2 hours at the airport. Even two hours at a nearby mall is better than two hours in the terminal!

Take Preventative Measures - Be alert to impending storms, local traffic news and try to stay ahead of any potential problems. Use phone apps to stay connected while on the fly. If there is a storm predicted, call your airline and see if you can reschedule without penalty to avoid stress. If you know you have a tight connection, kindly speak to your check in agent. They may be able to seat you at the front of the plane for a quick exit or even reschedule you for a better connection at no charge.

Be a Realist..  If you are taking a cruise, or have an absolute deadline on the other end of your flight, acknowledge that the unexpected happens. Plan for the worst case scenario and then hope for the best.  If you can fly in the day before, that’s ideal.  Sometimes you just can’t do the extra day – go for the crack of dawn flight in that case. Pay the extra for nonstop flights if available. Connecting flights mean more opportunities for things to go wrong. If you are cruising, for example, generally your last chance to board is in the midafternoon. If you can pick a flight that as early as possible, you’ll have at least some cushion for delayed flights or traffic jams once you arrive. For your post cruise flight, make sure you plan a departure in the afternoon because cruise ships can get delayed too.

Consider other options.  If you just want to get to your destination, and you have a cancelled or delayed flight, consider whether there are other airports to fly into –it may help you in the long run. For example, my small local airport offers dirt cheap airfare nonstop to Florida. It really makes a fun weekend getaway possible.  BUT, we have had a few flights delayed or cancelled. Its worked out for us to ask the ticket agent about a flight to St. Petersburg instead of Orlando – the drive is a little bit longer, but I’d rather drive in the Florida sunshine than sit in a snowy Pennsylvania airport. Just remember, if a delay happens on your outbound flight make sure you call and inform your airline of your itinerary change. If for some reason you don't check in on your outbound flight, airlines will automatically return you from you return flight leaving you stranded. (might not be so bad in Floriday sunshine but your boss may take exception).

Keep Calm & Carry On!  Pack light and go with the carry on. If you find yourself detoured due to a cancellation or delay, the airlines are more likely to help reschedule you if they don't have worry about your luggage ultimately finding you.  This additional flexibility is one of many benefits – most airlines permit passengers to carry a personal item (purse, backpack, computer bag) and a carry on for free.  So you won’t have to pay $25 to check your bag. Go for it –  you'll always have your bag with you if you get stuck or need anything. At minimum, bring a carry on with your meds, at least one change of clothing, toothbrush and of course, the charger for your phone.  You just never know!

Patience Is a Virtue -  Seriously. You are not the only passenger whose plans have been interrupted.  The people staffing the gate counter are doing their best – they WANT you to be able to get on that plan and get to your destination.  They will help you no matter what, but really they will go the extra mile if you are patient and considerate. I don’t mean be a doormat – just remember to be kind.

Be Responsible - you'll be far less cranky if you pack some snacks and a means to entertain yourself if you should happen to encounter a long wait at the airport. Again, prepare for the worst like a travel blanket, clothing layers and anything else to keep yourself comfortable and cozy.

Use your phone! Never leave home without first downloading the latest apps for the airline you'll be flying. If your flight is delayed, every person on that plane is going to line up at the counter.  Grab your phone and call the airline (they usually will give you a phone number to call right there) – they will be able to get you on a different flight faster than the poor overworked folks at the counter.   I have had this happen and I have used the browser on my phone to see my options, and then called the airline while waiting in line.  This way, when I get to the front, all I need is new tickets. 

Go Social - Again, use your phone to tweet or facebook for help. Many times airline social media departments will also step in and help when possible. Once again, remember to be charing and not snarky.

Be Alert To Your Surroundings – If there are multiple counters for your airline, go to another gate.  On a recent trip, my flight was boarded and engines started when they noticed a mechanical problem.  There were 3 counters for my airline at this part of the terminal, so once I called and had a new flight booked, I went to the counter further away and got my tickets there. It’s all the same airline, so generally you can go to any of their gate counters for help. If you have a traveling companion along, use the "divide and conquer" approach here - like seeing which line moves the fastest in the supermarket.

Know your Rights - Be informed of exactly what your rights are as an airline passenger. There are no federal regulations over airline passenger rights. Each airline has their own rules and policies for the way they handle passengers who have been inconvenienced due to delays and cancellations. Again, use your phone and search for your airline's "contract of carriage" to find out their specific rules.

Flight delays really don’t happen all the time, and generally things run like clockwork.  If you like playing the Vegas odds there is even an app that will tell you the historical on-time performance of your flight schedule.  But I am a girl scout, so truly believe that Be Prepared. I am also a travel agent and prepared to help you be at the ready too. so again, make sure you keep that phone charger in your carry on bag people!

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Topics: family vacations

Mary Ellen Nunes

Written by Mary Ellen Nunes

Mary Ellen is our Vacationkids expert on all things Disney. She is also a Certified Family Travel Specialist from the Family Travel Association and dedicated Girl Scout Leader.

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