3 things to do if your flight is delayed

Nov 2, 2021

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Nobody likes a delayed flight.

But with several airlines, such as American and Southwest, experiencing operational meltdowns lately, it’s not inconceivable that you’ll experience a flight delay if you’re traveling right now. On Oct. 31, more than 9,700 flights within, into or out of the United States were delayed, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

However, before you head off to the airport lounge to drink away your sorrows, there are some things you need to know about flight delays. And, in some instances, you may even be entitled to financial compensation for your inconvenience.

Here’s what you should do if you find out your flight’s been delayed.

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Check-in with the gate agent

Gate B37 at JFK airport
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

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, drink and catch a cat nap at the lounge. I hadn’t realized that the flight had somehow been “un-delayed” until I’d 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 are sometimes not updated. They’re usually accurate, but you’re likely to have the most up-to-date flight departure information if you’ve downloaded your airline’s app to your phone.

On a recent flight between my hometown airport Norfolk (ORF) and New York (LGA), I found out 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.

Know your credit card’s delay and cancellation policy

(Photo by Mlenny/Getty Images)

We talk a lot about how to make your travel rewards credit cards work for you here at TPG. But that isn’t only about earning elite status with airlines or finding the best lounge to plane-spot. Sometimes, your credit card can 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: trip delay coverage, as my colleague, TPG senior editor Nick Ewen wrote earlier this summer. 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:

You may be eligible for a refund

(Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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, but you don’t have to settle for it and are entitled to cash.

You may have a cancel and refund option available to you online or in the airline’s app. But as I’ve found in the past, the airlines often won’t make it simple to ask for a refund, so you may end up having to call the customer service line. Just remember, even if the airline offers you a voucher or even 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 you some travel protections if your flight is delayed at departure, depending on how long your delay was. 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 EU 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.

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Featured photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

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