There are all sorts of reasons for flight delays. Winter storms, mechanical issues, volcanic eruptions – no matter how big or how small the issue seems to you, all it takes is one unforeseen bump in the road for airport schedules to fall apart around the holidays. Fortunately, things are rarely as bad as they seem at first, and many flights get back on track after a short delay. However, if you’re one of the unlucky travelers who faces an uncertain departure, there are a few things you can do to calm your nerves and get to your destination without too much strife or expense.
Check your travel itinerary before you leave the house. Even when weather isn’t an issue, airports and airlines could shuffle things around, and holidays bring even more uncertainty. If you know you’re traveling at a busy time of year, try to book direct flights (often the extra cost brings you some welcome peace of mind) and keep a close eye on storms in the days leading up to your departure. When your travel day arrives, check the airport website before you head out the door to be sure everything is operating according to plan.
Change your flight plan
Frequent flyers and airport workers know that when airlines issue travel advisories, it’s a hint for passengers to readjust their itinerary. It’s true that things can change, or perhaps the weather event isn’t as bad as expected, but it’s a great idea to play it safe by rebooking your departure date, time – even your flight direction – in the small window between the official weather warning and the start of the storm.
In some cases, you will have to pay a fee to move your flight back or ahead when you’re so close to your original departure date, but you may be able to do so for no charge. It’s certainly worth asking your airline, and the earlier you act, the better: flights fill up fast in peak travel seasons, and your only chance of rebooking without incident is if you do so before the rest of the crowd catches on.
Call your airline
Have you noticed how quickly those customer service lines begin to snake around the terminal after a cancellation announcement? Do your nerves a favor and skip the queue by calling your airline promptly and directly. You may have to wait on hold for a few minutes, but airlines typically have pretty sizeable teams appointed to handle incoming calls and questions.
It’s a good idea to ask for some compensation, and although it’s really up to the airline to grant or deny your request, you don’t have a chance if you don’t bring it up. Airlines will often help in some way, whether it’s a reimbursement for a connecting flight, or a free night’s stay at a local hotel and some vouchers for food.
Adjust connections ASAP
An hour or two delay on this end can wreak havoc on the next leg of your journey, so if you’re worried about potentially missing a connection, look into it right away. Airline representatives should have a pretty good idea whether or not you’re in danger of missing a flight (based on their knowledge of airport layout, size of crowds, and general behind-the-scenes info), so take advantage of their expertise. You may be able to get a later connecting flight if you speak with them early enough.
Delays are never fun, but the way you handle the waiting period can make a big difference in your comfort, state of mind, and overall experience. It’s easy to grow impatient, especially when there’s a lack of information around you, but it’s important to resist putting your needs ahead of everyone else’s. Remember that you’re all in this together, and losing your temper or forgetting common courtesy will only aggravate the situation (and it certainly won’t help you get sympathy or compensation from the airline).
Get yourself some water, food, and a quiet corner. Sit and enjoy a bit of time to yourself, or do some stretching to keep you limber, relaxed and refreshed. Airports usually have quite a bit to offer, and you can use the space and the amenities to your advantage. You may even find some welcome camaraderie in a fellow delayed passenger, so be kind and stay optimistic.
Know when to admit defeat
If your flight is cancelled or delayed indefinitely, you’ll need a place to stay – and nearby hotels will tend to fill up fast. Before you get in line, struggle with your airline, or retrieve your baggage, try to book a hotel for the night. There are plenty of websites dedicated to last minute hotel deals that will let you book right from your mobile device, or else head straight to the tourist desk to get some help finding a room. Knowing that you can look forward to a warm bed will immediately relieve some stress, and a good night’s sleep will help you prepare for the next round of travel adjustments.
Rebooking a flight can be difficult, but there are resources to help you out. If you booked through a travel agent, this is a time to lean on them: see if they can find you a better way around the delay or cancellation, or if they can get you onto another flight quickly and without the aid of an airline rep. There are many more unknowns than guarantees when it comes to flights, so it’s important to keep an open mind, don’t assume entitlement, and ask about any and all options. A proactive attitude could get you on a later flight, a flight through another airline, or even some monetary compensation.