What to do if your flight is canceled or delayed

This winter, the twin disasters of bad weather and the COVID-19 omicron boom have caused hundreds or even thousands of flights to be canceled nearly every day. Flight Aware, the airline tracking service, reports a daily average of more than 800 US flight cancellations midweek in January, plus at least 3,000 additional flights with delayed departures.

So what should a traveler do when faced with this increased possibility that their flight won’t leave on time – or at all? Here are some tips that can help make air travel during these chaotic times as smooth as possible.

before your flight

1. Reduce or improve communications. The more connections you have, the higher the chances of cancellation or delay. If it makes financial sense, book direct flights whenever possible – those extra dollars you spend could end up saving you a lot of hassle. And if your itinerary choices include different airport connection options, choose those in warm-weather cities that are less prone to winter mishaps.

2. Book flights early in the day, with a direct carrier. Zach Grieve, chief airline correspondent for The Points Guy website, recommends travelers book flights early because “once a few cancellations occur, a domino effect means that a higher percentage of subsequent flights will be delayed or canceled.” He also suggests booking with a direct airline (such as United and American) rather than a regional partner (United Express or American Eagle, for example). Parent airlines tend to get priority hiring and airport access.

3. Avoid checking baggage. A last minute flight change sometimes results in checked baggage being left behind on the new itinerary. Bringing a rolling bag small enough to use as a carry-on makes you smarter to grab an alternate flight, not to mention save a change of clothes if you get stuck somewhere.

4. Use travel gear. Staying up to date with flight and weather information can help you forecast and manage delays and cancellations. “We encourage our customers to download the airline’s phone app and make sure their contact information is up-to-date and notifications are turned on. Check flight status, weather, news, and where to start a flight a day or two before departure,” says Limore Dikter, travel advisor at E mbark Beyond.

5. Consider using a travel agent. If things go wrong, you can turn to a travel agency for support. “The agencies have direct access and influence with the airlines,” Dikter says. “We can contact the appropriate people to rebook a canceled flight.”


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