You’ve taken all the pre-airport precautions: You’ve loaded your phone with the right apps and with your airline’s customer service number. You’ve checked your airline’s website for weather-related alerts. You’ve packed everything in one carry-on so you can switch flights if necessary without you going one way and your luggage going another. And you’ve read my comprehensive advice for coping with crowds, delays, and cancellations over the holidays.
Then you get to the airport and all hell breaks loose. Here, seven expert frequent fliers share their own tactics for coping with flight delays. Bookmark this article, print it out, or snap a photo of it with your phone, so you can refer to it at the airport the moment you need it!
- Get in line, pull out your computer, and call the airline—all at once.
While a traveler’s instinct might be to get in line if there’s a problem, that should only be a third of the strategy. At the same time, pull out your phone and your tablet/laptop so you can attack from multiple angles. With the tablet/laptop, go to the airline’s website and pull up your itinerary. If you’re going to miss a connection or your flight is canceled, you may already have been rebooked and you can find out by logging on. If not, some airlines will present alternate options you can pick from without talking to a soul. While this is going on, pick up the phone and call the airline. If there isn’t a major storm impacting half the country, chances are that you’ll get through pretty quickly. If you need to be rebooked, you’re competing with everyone else on your flight. The sooner you can get help, the better the chances are that you’ll like your options.
—Brett Snyder, president and chief airline dork, Cranky Concierge
- Ask the airline to “protect” you on the next flight.
At the first sign of a serious mechanical problem, call the airline to have it “protect” you on the next flight out. That way, if the mechanical problem leads to a cancellation, you are already confirmed on a new flight and can just print a new boarding pass.
—Scott Mayerowitz, airlines reporter, The Associated Press
- Proactively rebook your itinerary.
Never release yourself into the hands of the airline when things go sideways. Know why you’re delayed and where the inbound flight is coming from, keeping an eye on FlightAware.com to track the incoming airplane. If you think the flight will be delayed further or canceled, know what alternative options there are to get you to your destination (a casual search on an airfare site will give you an idea of what’s available for booking) and be the first person at the rebooking desk or on the phone when the delays pile up. It’s the airline’s responsibility to get you to your destination, but it’s your responsibility to make them rebook you first.
—Grant Martin, business travel editor, Skift
- Use your credit card’s concierge service.
If you have a credit card with concierge service, make sure to have the number handy, since they will sometimes help you rebook connecting flights.
—Christine Sarkis, senior editor, Smarter Travel
- Spring for a day pass to an airline club.
If you don’t have an airline club membership, check your credit cards to see what their perks are—many now come with lounge privileges—or download an app like Lounge Buddy, which sells one-off day passes. If you have to be delayed, you might as well be delayed far from the madding crowd with a more comfortable seat, free Wi-Fi, and some free snacks and beverages. If you have a choice among lounges and you need customer-service help, favor a lounge that’s operated by the airline you’re flying, since the staffers inside the club may be less busy than those at the gate and are often experts at rebooking.
—Joe Brancatelli, publisher, Joe Sent Me
- Take to Twitter.
Try posting to your airline’s Twitter, Facebook, or another social media page. Not all airlines monitor those pages in real time, but many do—and they might be able to resolve your problem quickly.
—Ed Hewitt, contributing editor, Independent Traveler
- Get your money back.
If your flight is severely delayed or cancelled and the airline offers to rebook you on a later flight, but you realize you’re going to miss the turkey, know that you can get a full refund even on a non-refundable ticket. Airlines typically push you into rebooking, but you don’t need to rebook if you don’t want to. Just ask for your money back.
—George Hobica, founder, AirfareWatchdog