If your flight gets canceled or heavily delayed, you need to proactively look for other potential options. Follow our advice below to help you figure out the quickest way to get to your final destination.
Assess the Problem
Tracking the Incoming Flight
You should first visit Flight Aware or download a mobile flight tracking app such as FlightView to see where your plane is currently located. The incoming flight (the flight before your flight) can tell you a lot about the probability of your flight being delayed. Many times airlines will show your flight as on-time, but the incoming flight is due to arrive several hours late, which means the airline will eventually delay your flight.
On Flight Aware, you can click the "track inbound plane" link to locate your plane (the "All Flights between X and Y" is also helpful to see if other flights are delayed). If your plane is in the air or already on the ground, then that is a good sign. If your plane is sitting on the ground at another airport, that is a bad sign. Usually, it is either an issue with (1) the plane, (2) staffing, or (3) the airport/weather.
Is it an Airport or Weather Issue?
Check this map to see if your airport is experiencing delays for most flights. Weather is the usual culprit for large delays at a particular airport. If the connecting airport is the issue, go to Google Flights and find alternative options that don't connect in the city with bad weather (e.g. if you are flying through Chicago on American, fly through their other hub in Dallas or Charlotte instead).
Is it an Airline Issue?
An airline can have a system-wide issue such as a computer glitch, which can cause thousands of canceled flights. When this happens, an airline usually struggles for at least a week to re-accommodate all passengers that were affected.
Figure Out a Plan
Download the Airline's Mobile App
Airlines sometimes will offer you options to rebook via their mobile app especially in the event of a weather delay. So download the app and see if it offers you a quick way to rebook your flight.
Use Social Media
Almost every airline now has a large social media team. While you are on hold with the airline, send a Facebook message or tweet to the airline and see who gets you an answer the quickest.
Call a Foreign Call Centers for Less Hold Time
When there are major delays at a U.S. airline, their call centers are going to be slammed, but their international call centers generally will not. Here's the contact information for each major airline: American Airlines; United; Delta (scroll and expand "Other U.S.).
Visit the Airline's Lounge
In the event of a delay, it may be worth buying lounge access for that airline. Lounge agents are usually more friendly than customer service people and there will be much less of a line. Plus you have a place to hang out, eat some food, and drink some alcohol while you wait.
- You can buy lounge access for United and American for $59. You can access the Delta SkyClub with the American Express Platinum.
Ask to Be Put on Another Airline
Major airlines have "interline agreements" with other airlines that allow them to book delayed passengers on a different airline. Do a quick Google Flights search to see your options and bring it up when you talk with a reservation agent. If you are flying an ultra-low-cost carrier or JetBlue, you are generally out of luck.
- American Airlines changed their policy so that only elites are booked on another airline, but you could always ask.
Book a Hotel
If you know you are going to have a very long or overnight delay, you may want to consider booking a hotel. If it is a delay that affects the entire airport, book your hotel quickly! Rooms will sell out and you would hate to have to sleep on a bench in the airport.
- If the delay is more than 6 hours, your credit card may reimburse you up to $500 for the hotel, transportation, and food.
Know Your Rights
If you are flying on a European Union airline or a flight departing the European Union, you could be eligible for compensation up to 600 Euros.
Find an Alternative Way
You may need to find an alternative way to your destination. It could be flying into a different airport like Newark instead of JFK, or Oakland instead of San Francisco. You could also try to take a bus or a train. I find the website Wandru is the best option for looking up these options. As a last resort, you could get a one-way rental car. If you are trusting, you could save money by talking with fellow travelers on your flight to split the costs of a rental car.