What to do when your flight gets delayed

Business traveller in airport

The fog was thick as we approached Amsterdam. The impenetrable white cloak hid the city from sight, with nothing but the tips of a few lone wind turbines poking out of the cloud to indicate the presence of the capital of the Netherlands. Our plane battled bravely on, descending through the eerie mist that was growing denser by the minute. After a short while the plane veered off to the right, with the captain announcing that we’d probably be having a few attempts at landing in this dangerous weather. This didn’t bode well for our connecting flight to Sri Lanka.

We made it onto our next flight, several hours behind schedule, but then mechanical issues had us grounded in Qatar too, so we ended up spending an uncomfortable and unscheduled 24 hours in Doha airport. The final leg of our journey had been cancelled, and those Sri Lankan beaches seemed like a distant dream. Eventually, after a lot of frustration, faff, and poor communication, we were rebooked onto a new flight, and made it to the teardrop island nearly 2 days late. This had a huge impact on our trip, which was only a week long in the first place.

One of our first thoughts after landing was finding out what we could claim from the airline for the delay. It’s not always easy to figure this out, and some airlines are easier to deal with than others when it comes to getting through to customer services. Which is why I’ve put together this guide on what to do if your own flight is delayed or cancelled.

Here’s what you need to know:

Can I make a claim?

You can often make a claim for flight cancellations and delays if you’ve been given less than 2 weeks notice. Under UK law, you’re entitled to compensation if your plane is over three hours delayed. The airline should offer a refund or book you onto a different flight, but of course it’s not always that simple. Just getting through to a customer representative can be frustrating, and the slow process can have a negative impact on your current travel plans when all you want is a fast resolution.

If you’re wondering whether you’re entitled to compensation if your flight is delayed or cancelled and want a quick answer, there are other ways. You can check for free on sites like AirHelp to see if you are eligible for a payout. You’ll just need your flight details, information about the number of hours you were delayed, and whether you were informed about the disruption beforehand. This is a great way to cut out the hassle of chasing the airline directly, and resolving the problem a lot quicker.

Private Jet aerial view

What about accommodation and food?

If you’re already abroad, and your flight home has been cancelled or delayed for more than 2 hours, you should receive some support from the airline. This includes food vouchers, complimentary accommodation if your flight has been pushed back to the next day, and hotel transfers if required.

If you don’t get this assistance from your airline, then you’ll need to pay for it yourself, keep all the receipts, and make a claim once you’re back home. Just don’t book yourself into a lavish 5* hotel as you’re unlikely to recoup the cost of that! You also won’t be able to reclaim costs for any alcohol purchased, so go easy on the booze, even if you do feel like drowning your sorrows.

How to get rebooked onto a different flight

If your flight has been cancelled rather than just delayed, you’ll need to get rebooked onto a different flight. The first thing to do is queue up, with all the other passengers, at the airline helpdesk, where staff will do their best to sort out your onward journey.

In our experience, this can takes hours, as there will of course be a lot of other passengers to process. If you’ve not managed to get towards the front of the queue, it’s worth getting on the phone to the airline’s customer services while you wait. You may just get through to an agent quicker on the phone than in person at the airport.

We’ve also used the social media method before, after getting frustrated at just how long we were having to wait for assistance. A simple tweet can sometimes be a great way of jumping the queue and getting the attention you need a bit faster.

Tips for dealing with the delay in the moment

It can be really stressful when you’re at the airport, knowing your flight is delayed but not receiving much helpful information from the airline. You often have to use your own initiative to find things out, rather than relying on staff to keep you appraised of the situation. Not ideal when all you want to do is jet off for a relaxing holiday in the sun.

One thing we find really handy in these situations is the airline app, which is often more up to date with information than the flight departure boards in the airport. The app charts the flight, and sends notifications about any changes to your flight status. This helps with gate changes too, which can be updated on the app before being displayed at the airport. Many a time we’ve used this app information to get ahead of the game, and let our fellow passengers know too.

girl with orange suitcase sitting on a bench

What about my luggage?

Sometimes it’s your luggage that’s delayed, rather than your actual flight, leaving you without your suitcase at your destination. Some airlines will compensate you for delayed luggage, but each has its own rules, so do check with your provider to learn more about what you’re entitled to.

You may be able to claim on your travel or home contents insurance instead. To lessen the impact of lost luggage, always pack a few essentials in your hand luggage to tide you over until your case arrives, or you are able to purchase new items. Make sure you keep the receipts in case you need them for a claim.

How to minimise the risk of flight cancellations

Of course, it’s impossible to predict flight delays or cancellations, but there are ways of minimising potential disruption to your holiday. Try to book an early flight, so that if there are delays, there’s a good chance you’ll still be flying out the same day, albeit a bit later, or on a different plane. Weather is also often more favourable in the mornings, which is good news when it comes to flights running on time. Also, if you book onto the first flight of the day, the plane will probably already be waiting for you at the airport, and you won’t need to factor in its previous journey.

If at all possible, book nonstop flights rather than ones with layovers, to reduce the risk of delays and cancellations having a knock-on effect on your onward journeys. It’s not often easy, especially if you’re travelling long haul, but it’s worth checking out routes for several different airlines, as some may fly direct while others have connections.

Have you experienced a flight delay or cancellation? Share your experience and top tips with us in the comments.

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