5 Tips to Help When You Are On a Delayed or Cancelled Flight

Most travelers have had the pleasure of dealing with cancelled and delayed flights. On my way to Las Vegas this morning, after waking up at 3:30 am to get to O’hare and then after sitting for 30 min on the plane, my flight with United got cancelled. Great. I knew I was going to miss my connection in Denver to Las Vegas. Worse off, I checked a bag (which I almost never do) and I knew it wasn’t going to arrive with me.

What to do? Get really upset and start crying, like some poor girl I saw on the bridgeway? Get really angry and start yelling at the flight attendants and boarding agents, like the old couple going to Hawaii behind me? (Btw, their flight was ORD > DEN > LAX > Hawaii… never, never, NEVER book more than 1 connection. Even if it saves you a little bit of money. The chances of missing your next flight and getting your luggage lost exponentially grows with each additional connection and it’s not worth the headache and pain for the $30 you save on airfare).

Me? I just calmly turned on my cell phone, called United right away, grabbed my bag and deplaned. Follow these few tips and you should be able to have a better experience with your altered travel plans:

1) Stand in line, call the airline, and be patient.

When you have a huge delay or cancelled flight, they will offer for you to rebook with their boarding agent. My experience is always a long line, pissed people, flustered agent, and wasted time. Pick up your phone and call the airline. Stay in line at the ticket booth, but still pick up your cell phone and call the reservations number with the airline (hit 0 until you get to an agent). Don’t call Expedia, Orbitz, or your travel agent, they will put you on hold and call the airline anyway. The call center for the airline uses the same computer system to look up the same flights and generally are faster than the agents at the gate. Only in circumstances of mass cancellations like bad weather across an entire region or major hub will it be slower. Also, I know you’re going to be angry, but BE NICE. Agents will not work any faster or give you better flights because you are a raging jerk.

2) It’s a race to get a seat…

That’s why you call and stand in line because you double your chances of getting helped. Don’t be super picky with your flights. It’s first come first serve with those open seats. Chances are if you are lucky enough to find one seat for your final destination, just take the flight, especially if it is direct. There’s a really good possibility that others are trying to get to the same destination so if you are picky you will lose out.

3) What about my bags?

Another reason why I generally don’t check my baggage… if you have a connecting flight and one leg gets cancelled, your bag won’t be with you. What airlines usually do, they have tagged it for the path of travel that you were originally on. So since I was supposed to go Chicago to Denver to Las Vegas. My bag in Chicago won’t fly until the next available flight from Chicago to Denver to Las Vegas. They won’t pull it off the plane for you only sometimes if it’s an overnight connection and you have to wait until the next day. Once the bag comes, you will have to pick it up yourself or have them deliver it. Both big pains.

4) Still no available flights?
Before giving up, ask the gate agent to check partner airlines and other airlines at the airport. Sometimes you might find some options there. If you have a smart phone, look up flight schedules while waiting. This is where sites like kayak.com have a multipurpose use. You can see all flights for your destination. Ask the agent about some of those flights that are not their airline.

5) If you don’t get a flight until the next day or days…
Demand for compensation with either flight vouchers, a hotel room, toiletry kits, and/or food vouchers. Usually airlines will provide it to you, but in worse case you should now be more assertive and get as much stuff as possible.  🙂

Cancellations and delays are inevitable. Just make the best of your situation and try to get things to work out. As for me, my instinct to call the airline first worked perfectly. I noticed most people were just standing around waiting, I was one of the only people in line calling United. When others in line noticed I was talking to an agent, they quickly followed suit. I got the last seat flying direct from Chicago to Las Vegas, plus this flight arrived earlier than my original route. Now I’m just waiting diligently for my bag to arrive from Denver, writing this blog post. Eh, things could be worse.

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