Help! My Flight Was Canceled and/or Delayed!

by James Andrew Scott

Our Best Advice for When Your Flight is Delayed or Canceled

1.  Always check the status of your flight before you leave for the airport.

If you find that your flight has been delayed or canceled before you leave, you can make better use of your time to re-plan and/or re-book from the comfort of your own home or your hotel.  Be aware that delays are always estimated and it’s possible that your “delayed” flight will leave on-time.

To keep informed easily, sign up for text alerts with your airline.  Another great option for keeping up with your flight status is to use a phone app like FlightTrack Pro.

2. You might have to do (almost) nothing.

TripBadger likes when things are automatic.

The airline’s computer system may have already rebooked you on the next space-available flight to your destination.  Delta and United have computer terminals in the airport where you can scan your old boarding pass (or slide your credit card)  and your rebooked ticket will be printed.  Automatic re-booking, however, is something of mixed bag.  While you don’t have to wait on the phone or in a customer service line to get rebooked, the computer systems are not quite as smart or flexible as humans.  The computers don’t typically consider options that might get you to your destination more quickly—for instance re-routing you to other airports in your destination city or rebooking you on a different airline.  So you might have to change your re-booking.

3. You may be able to rebook yourself on the airline’s website from your smartphone or laptop.

4.  You may be able to tweet yourself onto a new flight.

This works with some airlines but I would only try it with Delta.   Delta (@deltaassist) is far and away the leader here with an average response time of 11 minutes .  Delta has 10+ employees that will respond to every tweet.  has nice information on the Delta twitter operation:

  • About a dozen Social Assist Agents, who hailed from the reservations department, staff Delta’s Twitter account, Delta Assist, on a 24 hour basis. Each is authorized to immediately issue a travel credit, when appropriate. They can rebook travelers and do anything a reservations agent might do with the exception of selling tickets.

5. The customer service counter is probably not your best option.

flight delays board

Typically, these are quickly overwhelmed. It’s generally better to call the airline’s customer service line as soon as possible on your cell phone. Ideally, if you learn of mechanical troubles while you’re still at the gate, call customer service from the plane right away. It’s a good idea to have your cell phone pre-programmed with these  numbers. If you don’t have the number in your phone, no problem.  If you can, look it up your smartphone.  Or grab the airplane’s magazine or look on the back of your frequent flier card or airline credit card.  By dialing right away, you stand a good chance of reaching someone before the first class passengers can de-plane.

Make sure you have your frequent flier number at the ready because many airline automated phone systems will prioritize your call based on your status; others might identify you simply by your cell phone number. Some airlines have special numbers for elite members to call; if you have one, use it.

6. Check the departure board for flights heading to your destination on the same airline.

Use some judgment to check for flights with departure times and gates that might actually be able to make. Then start walking there.  Ideally, on your walk there, you’ll have reached someone on the phone. If you’re lucky, you might arrive before many of the people in the customer service line have snagged seats on this very plane. Once there, the gate agent may be able to find you a spot on the plane or put you on the standby list. Gate agents are used to unhappy customers (and often rude behavior) so a little kindness is always appreciated.

Top-tier elites and airline club members have another option: the airline club customer service agents.  Most airline clubs have 1-2 agents who can rebook you and there’s a good chance the line will be shorter inside.

7.  Know the rules…or at least the basics.

If you’re on a US domestic, contrary to popular belief, federal regulations do not require airlines to compensate you for a canceled or delayed flight. Rather, each airline has its own rules cancellation and delay policies spelled out in the airline’s “contract of carriage”–which are essentially the rules of your ticket. In general, most airlines follow that rule that if your flight is canceled or delayed for several hours, the airline will rebook you on the next space-available flight to your destination, at no additional charge.  The airline will also offer you the option of re-booking you in a class different than your fare class; if the class is lower than your ticket class, the airline will refund you the difference.  At the airline’s sole discretion and if you request it, some airlines will also fly you on another airline that has a space-available flight to your destination.  Discount airlines like Southwest generally don’t rebook on other airlines.

8.  Remember the journey is often more memorable than the destination!

Have any more tips or disagree with our advice on what to do when your flight is canceled or delayed?  Please leave a comment below.