What to Do if Your Flight Is Canceled or Delayed

By Bill Fink

How to keep your trip on track as air travel disruptions and chaos continue


Air travel has been a bit chaotic lately so it’s always good to be prepared for a delayed or canceled flight. Here are tips on what to do before you book a flight and advice for when you’re at the airport to make your trip as smooth as possible.

Before your trip

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

2. Book flights earlier in the day, with a direct carrier. Zach Griff, senior airline reporter at The Points Guy website, recommends travelers book earlier flights because “once a few cancellations happen, the domino effect means a higher percentage of later flights will be delayed or canceled.” He also suggests booking with a direct carrier (such as United and American) rather than a regional partner (United Express or American Eagle, for example). The parent airlines tend to get priority for staffing and airport access.

3. Avoid checking luggage. Changing a flight at the last minute will sometimes mean checked baggage will be left behind, trailing your new itinerary. Bringing just a roller bag small enough to use as a carry-on item makes you more nimble to grab a replacement flight, not to mention providing a change of clothes should you get stuck somewhere.

4. Use travel tools. Staying up to date on flight and weather information can help you predict and manage delays and cancellations. Limor Decter, travel adviser at the Embark Beyond agency, says: “We encourage our clients to download their airline’s phone app and make sure their contact information is updated and notifications turned on. Check on flight status and weather and news, and where the flight originates a day or two prior to departure.”

5. Consider using a travel agent. Should things go wrong, you can use your travel agency for support. “Agencies have direct access and clout with airlines,” Decter says. “We can connect with the right people to rebook a flight that’s canceled.”