7 Ways To Help Yourself When Your Flight Is Canceled Or Delayed
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Deicing at LaGuardia Airport during a winter storm on February 2, 2015
Nobody wins when bad weather strikes on the day of your flight. The good news? There are now more ways than ever for you to be informed and proactive about handling travel disruptions.
Here are seven techniques to help yourself get home sooner—or prevent a bad delay altogether:
Check for free changes ahead of time
When severe weather is about to strike, airlines often give you the option to change to another day ahead of time, free of charge. These notices usually get posted a day or two before the weather event on the carriers' travel alerts pages. Here are the pages for American, Delta, Southwest, United, and US Airways. Check early and you’ll beat the rush for the first seats after the storm clears.
Spot a delay before everyone else
If the inbound aircraft for your flight is late, the airline often won’t notify you that your flight is delayed until after that plane arrives. But there are ways to check the status of a plane that’s flying in and predict possible delays hours ahead of time. United and American let you check the status of your inbound aircraft via links from their flight status pages. For other airlines, use FlightAware.com. Enter your flight number, look for the "Track Inbound Flight" link, and you’ll see if your plane is going to land late. If it looks like a delay is probable, you can get a head start on making other plans. (One caveat: Sometimes the airline will substitute a different plane to get you out on time, so keep an eye on the status when your original departure time approaches.)
Rebook without an agent
The first instinct of most people when a flight is cancelled is to stand in line at a service counter or get on the phone. But while you’re waiting, use your smartphone browser to see if you can rebook on your own for free. Delta offers the feature consistently via both its app and website for even the smallest of delays. Just pull up your reservation and you’ll see the option to rebook. United is rolling out this feature for larger delays if you have the latest version of its app.
Get free access to your airline’s website while in flight
Few things are more frustrating than being on a flight with a tight connection and being helpless to do anything about it until you land. On flights with Wi-Fi, though, most airlines give you free access to the airline’s own website, so you can use your smartphone to check the status of your connection, see options, and sometimes rebook before you land.
Use international numbers to get ahead
In dire situations, when the airline call centers have hour-plus hold times, consider using Skype from your smartphone to call an international number for your airline. Sometimes those numbers lead to different agents who will pick up faster. Here are numbers for American, Delta, United, and US Airways.
Look for extra sections
When things get really bad, airlines sometimes add extra flights—called "extra sections"—at hubs to get people moving. They’re hard to spot, but sometimes they’ll show up if you do a flight-status search for your destination. Otherwise keep an eye on the departure board for flights to your destination that weren't displaying before. It’s possible those are extra sections that have space.
Don’t accept the first option you’re given
When an airline tells you it will be three days before you can get home, don’t buy it. In bad weather, seats are constantly changing hands. So if you don’t like what you’re given, be persistent—but polite—and keep checking for options on your smartphone. In addition to your airline’s tools, Kayak and Google Flights are great about showing creative options you can feed to an agent. While airlines aren’t required to rebook you on other airlines, sometimes they can, especially if your flight is cancelled outright.