Take A Deep Breath!

Airlines transport millions of people to thousands of destinations every year. Most travelers will make it to their destination without a hiccup. That's the way that air travel should work. In some cases and for a variety of reasons, the airline is unable to get you or your baggage to where you need to go without a significant delay. It is important to know what to do when you have been delayed or cancelled.

When you buy your ticket, the airline is obligated to find you a way to your destination. It's called a contract of carriage, and it applies to all commercial flights in the US. Sometimes a delay will cause you to miss a connecting flight, the airline then must rebook you on the next available flight with seats. Sometimes the next flight will be within an hour, and in extreme cases the next flight could be several days away.

If you want to avoid getting stuck in an airport for an exteded period of time then you will need to be proactive. The steps below apply if you have  arrived at the airport after your flight's departure time for any reason. Knowing what to say and do in this scenario will usually save you some time, and get you on your way to the destination quickly.

  • Use the airline app to check the status of your flight. The app will tell you gate information and should let you know if the flight has departed the gate. If you are connecting from a late flight then you can turn your phone on right when you land and get this information with the app.  This is the fastest way to get flight information. 

                                Check out Which airlines offer phone Apps Here 

  • If you don't have the app, or the airline does not offer one then check departure boards at the airport for your gate assignment, or ask an airline agent
  • Head straight to the  departure gate for your flight! unless you know for sure that your flight has departed, you may still have a chance to make it.
    •  The flight may be delayed or holding for passengers. If the door is still open when you get to the gate you can board. It's always worth a shot.
  • If the flight has already departed then ask the agent at the gate if they will rebook you for the next flight.
    • If there is no agent, or they won't help you then you will need to seek out customer service
  • You will need to locate the customer service center in the airport for assistance. If the service center is staffed with real people, and there is not a long line then talk with one of the agents.
    • Many airline service centers are automated, or will have phones with direct lines to their reservations agents. If this is the case you can just call them on your own phone. you will get the same service.

Click Here for your airline's contact info

  • If there is a long line then you will better off calling the airline. Standing in line may cost you a flight opportunity. I've seen many people miss the next available flight because they were standing in line         


  • When you get in touch with a customer service agent you will want to have them explore all options for getting you to your destination
    • Ask when the next available flight is
    • if there is nothing soon then ask about:
      • Connecting flights
      • alternate destinations that are close
      • other airlines
      • ground transportation
    • All of these options may be available
    • Give the agent some ideas of places that you can go to, they may not be familiar with your destination

If there is a long Customer Service line, and calling the airline is no help then you still have options

  • Check the departure boards to see if there is a flight to your destination, or somewhere close that would be adequate
  • Once you find a flight that may fit,  head to the departure gate for the flight.
    • Ask the agent at the gate if there are available seats, if there are, they may get you a seat and you'll be on your way
    • If the flight is fully booked then ask to get on the standby list. Many people do not show up for their flights, especially when weather conditions are causing delays. Stand By is always worth a shot
    • If you get on a standby list,  request that you be confirmed on the next available flight with seats so you will have a confirmed option later.                                       

If you cannot get confirmed on a flight the same day, and you do not clear the standby list on any other flights then you may be stuck overnight. 

  • You may want to Consider Alternate Transportation. Driving to your destination, taking a bus, or train may get you there quicker than the airline can
    • If you do not use your airline ticket then ask for it to be refunded, you may need to request a refund from a different department than customer service, an agent should be able to direct you where to go to request a refund                     
  • If alternate transportation is not available then you are stuck
  • Make sure that you have already been confirmed on a flight for the next day, or next available date. you will now need to address accommodations.
  • If the delay was caused by weather or air traffic control the airline is unlikely to pay for a hotel room. They consider these events to be out of their control.
    • When these events occur there is usually a high volume of stranded passengers. Hotel rooms will run out quickly. Book a room early and make sure you have a place to stay. If you don't get a room then you will be stuck sleeping at the airport. Not Fun.
  • If the delay was caused by maintenance, flight crew availability, or a few other conditions that are within the airline's control, then they may offer you a hotel room for the evening, and meal vouchers
  • You will need to go to the service counter to get these vouchers. I have seen customer service lines that would exceed 4 hours waiting time. The wait may not be worth it.
    • Some airlines will compensate you for personal expenses when they determine that you are entitled to compensation for the delay. If you book your own room they may pay for it after the fact. Keep all of your receipts.
    • The Customer Service line may be shorter at the check in counter at the front of the airport. It's worth going out there to check.        
  • Once you have figured out what you will be doing overnight, try to relax. Getting stuck sucks, but sometimes there are no other options.
  • Once you finally are able to complete your trip, you should provide the airline with detailed feedback about your experience. You may be entitled to additional compensation from the airline. It is unlikely that they will contact you. Be proactive in getting hold of them.
  • Remember that missing flights and getting stuck is a rare occurrence. Most airlines have a pretty reliable operation.

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