Sleeping in Airports
Weather Delays at the Airport
(photo credit: Flightlevel80 / iStock)

10 Tips for Surviving Flight Delays and Cancellations

Between the months of November and March, much of the northern hemisphere is placed at the mercy of erratic winter weather. Snowstorms, ice storms, hurricanes and even the odd volcanic eruption or typhoon leave passengers delayed or stranded in countless terminals. While we can only hope each reader makes it through this tempestuous travel season unscathed, it is all too likely a few of us will be stuck in an airport at the mercy of Mother Nature. As such, we’ve come up with our top ten survival tips for maintaining sanity when faced with flight delays and cancellations.

The first two tips apply to the kinds of flights that are most ideal to book when bad weather might be anticipated…

1. Early Departures

Early morning airport departures may be unpleasant when that alarm clock goes off – but they sure beat getting caught up in the ‘ripple effect’ of airline delays. Each time a flight is delayed or cancelled, it will have an exponential effect on all the subsequent departures. Flights towards the end of the day will take the brunt of it and – worse than that – your options for same day re-routing will be significantly reduced. Those early morning departures keep you at least at the beginning of the ripple, and leave you with the most opportunities to find alternate flight paths without staying overnight.

2. Non-Stop Flights and Strategic Connections

It is perhaps obvious that booking a direct flight is ideal, given that it eliminates the chance for missed connections and multiple delays. While these tickets can be a bit pricier, they may well be worth the splurge during the winter months. If however it is necessary to book a layover, it is worth putting some thought into where and when that layover occurs. If you do have some flexibility with where the layover occurs, keep an eye out for cities with calmer weather patterns. You may also want to try to travel through less-congested routes, where you will find lower chances of flight delays and more opportunities for re-routing. Above all else, leave yourself with ample time for making the connection – and check out our handy airport guides for things to do while you wait!

3. Book Travel Insurance!

The only thing that is worse than a flight delay or cancellation, is looking at your credit card statement after the fact to realize just how much money you burned at the airport. While a good insurance policy is an extra expense, it has the potential to save you quite a lot of money on food, accommodation, missed tours and more that come from flight path disruptions. Before you set off looking for a package, don’t forget to check the details of your credit card. Often, companies will include travel insurance as a bonus!

Once booked, there are then a few things you can do in the days and hours leading up to your flight that might save you some time, energy and stress.

4. Plan Ahead

Keeping an eye on the weather in the days before your flight has proven to be a useful strategy in avoiding flight delays and making proactive changes. Some airlines even wave or reduce change fees if this is your reason for making changes! It is also worth considering calling the airline ahead of your flight to check on the up to date status. This gives you a heads up about any potential problems and – better yet – a direct connection to a person that may be able to re-book or re-route your travel plans before you arrive at a chaotic airport.

5. Arrive Early and Be Proactive

Arriving early to the airport mitigates problems on a number of fronts. First, an extra cushion of time allows you to manage any transport-related delays that occur due to weather on-route to the airport. Then, given that delays and cancellations are often only announced in the hours before a flight, arriving before other passengers gives you a leg up on handling the problem. You will be at the front of the re-booking line for your flight and/or any possible connections.

6. Keep your essentials handy

When packing your luggage at home, make sure you pack your essentials in your hand luggage. Having your toiletries, a change of clothes and a cell phone charger accessible on a long delay can make all the difference in your level of comfort in the airport. When things begin to go wrong with weather, delays and cancellations, you may be looking at days before you are reunited with your luggage. If you have a bit of extra space in your carry-on, you might even go so far as stuffing a pillow and small blanket to improve your airport sleeping experience!

Unfortunately, cancellations and delays often occur with only a few moments notice, leaving even the most proactive travelers stranded. In this situation, we have a few final tips for navigating the chaos that often erupts at the airport.

7. Look at Other Flights

Too often, the only information provided to travelers is that the flight is delayed or cancelled – without specifying why. You can play detective by looking at the flights around you to determine weather this is an airport, airline or aircraft-related issue. If you realize that the problem is confined to your flight alone, you may be wise to begin working on re-booking on a different flight as quickly as possible. Do be aware of penalties and change fees associated.

8. Try the Phone

Ticket counters often become a madhouse of angry travelers and frustrated employees. Rather than joining in the chaos, try reaching the airline over either airport phones located in the terminals or your cell phone. This is often a quicker and less stressful way to re-book, in comparison to waiting in line. That said, if traveling in a group of two or more, you could divide-and-conquer to ensure maximum efficiency and efficacy. This handy website provides phone numbers for most airlines worldwide.

9. Consult Other Carriers

Typically when a flight is cancelled, the airline will rebook you on their next flight to your chosen destination for free. Often, this is the easiest way to manage the disruption however for some destinations, the re-booking process forces you into a significant delay. When this occurs, be sure to check the flight schedules of other airlines in hopes of finding an earlier departure. You can then request that your airline endorse your ticket on the other airline, or you might demand a refund for the cancelled flight. Do note that during peak travel times, this can be a challenging process – but one worth trying for extra-long delays.

10. Check for Compensation

Once the delay or cancellation has been managed and your sanity has been restored, be sure to follow up to see if you qualify for various forms of compensation. Submitting claims to the airline often results in some form of voucher or reimbursement.  If you are traveling in Europe and experience a non-weather related delay, be sure to familiarize yourself with the EU Flight Compensation Regulations.

Bonus Tip: If you do find yourself stranded at the airport with a major cancellation, keep an eye out for cots. Some airports bring these out for severe emergencies, much to the happiness to weary bench sleepers! Our airport-specific pages provide more information on this.

And with all that, we wish all our travelers luck. We would of course love to hear other tips and tricks from you that help navigate flight delays and cancellations as they come up!

Photo Credit: Flightlevel80 /

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