Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.
Nobody likes a delayed flight, and so far this year, about 21.9% of flights have been delayed, according to data from FlightAware. You can even monitor a live airline flight cancellation page and a misery map showing airport locations and delays.
However, since the airlines can’t control the weather, delays are a necessary evil that passengers must put up with. Even if there’s a maintenance issue causing the delay, you don’t want to stray too far from the gate and risk missing your flight in case the issue is resolved quickly and the airline revises the departure time.
So before you head off to the airport lounge to drink away your sorrows, there are some things you need to know about flight delays. In some instances, you may even be entitled to financial compensation for your inconvenience.
Here’s what you should do if your flight is delayed.
Check in with the gate agent
Don’t skip off to the airport lounge immediately after finding out about a flight delay. I’ve admittedly been guilty of this, and it’s almost caused me to miss a twice-delayed flight. After getting delayed during a flight a few years back, I figured I had enough time to grab some food and catch a cat nap at the lounge. I hadn’t realized that the flight had somehow been “un-delayed” until I happened to wake up a short time later. With just minutes to spare before the boarding doors closed, I arrived to catch my connecting flight — harried and out of breath.
I would have avoided this entirely had I checked with the gate agent to find out the new time or asked an employee at the lounge. They typically know these things.
Another thing: Don’t rely solely on the airport departure and arrival board, as they aren’t always updated. They’re usually accurate, but you’re likely to get the most up-to-date flight departure information by downloading your airline’s app to your phone and signing up for text flight alerts.
On another flight between my hometown airport Norfolk International Airport (ORF) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA), I discovered my outbound flight had been delayed minutes before the gate agent announced it over the intercom. Having multiple sources of information, especially as more flights experience operational delays these days, is better than relying on just one source.
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Know your credit card’s delay and cancellation policy
At TPG we talk a lot about how to make your travel rewards credit cards work for you — and not only about earning elite status with airlines or finding the best lounge to plane spot. Sometimes your credit card will come in handy when a trip doesn’t go quite as planned.
One underrated benefit that can come to the rescue when things go wrong is trip delay coverage, according to TPG senior editor Nick Ewen. A delay isn’t just frustrating. It can cause you to miss a crucial flight segment and potentially leave you stranded at an airport.
Trip delay protection ensures that you won’t be responsible for additional (reasonable) expenses that occur due to a lengthy trip delay. However, some credit cards can save you money and hassle if you’re delayed due to weather, operational problems, strikes or other unplanned events. You will likely need to pay for the expenses upfront, but you may be eligible for reimbursement afterward.
Credit cards with trip delay protection include:
*Eligibility and Benefit level vary by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.
You may be eligible for a refund
Know your rights if there’s a delay or cancellation.
If you decide not to fly your originally scheduled flight due to significant delays and cancellations, you should get your money or points back. Airlines will generally try and push a voucher on you. However, you don’t have to settle for it as you are entitled to cash.
You may have a cancel and refund option available online or in the airline’s app. Although, as I’ve found in the past, the airlines don’t make it a simple process. So, you may end up having to call the customer service line. Remember, even if the airline offers you a voucher or miles, you’re typically entitled to a cash refund.
You have even more options if your travel falls under the EU261 regulation — which establishes rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding, cancellation or long flight delays.
EU261 provides some travel protections if your flight is delayed at departure, depending on how long the delay is. If you arrived at your final destination with a delay of more than three hours, you are entitled to compensation (unless the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances, like terrorism.)
As we reported last year, the regulation applies to the following:
- Flights wholly within the European Union and operated by any airline;
- Flights departing from the EU to a non-EU country and operated by any airline; and
- Flights arriving in the EU from outside the EU and operated by an EU airline.
Additional reporting by Becky Blaine.