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No one enjoys thinking about it, but it happens: After standing near your boarding gate for what seems like forever, the sign flashes before your face: DELAYED. The long-awaited flight that has been booked, packed, and prepped for is now delayed indefinitely, and a myriad of emotions comes with this news. Frustration, concern, maybe panic - it's all right there.

However, there are ways to deal with this, and the even worse alternative: one's flight being canceled. Both have the potential to ruin a trip, but they don't need to. Here's what travelers can do in the event that their flight is delayed, or canceled, in the modern era of air travel.


So, Your Flight Has Been Delayed - Now What Do You Do?

It's something that no one wants to hear, especially when we all have things to do and places to be. Unfortunately, it happens more often than many people realize, with many major airlines canceling hundreds of flights daily. The best way that one can arm themselves against flight delays or cancelations is to be aware of what might cause such a thing to happen. Believe it or not, flight delays or cancellations are predictable - to an extent.

  • Bad Weather. This is one of the most common reasons why a flight might be delayed or canceled completely. Checking the flight path, and the weather reports within that flight path in the days leading up to a flight can help cushion the blow if a flight is delayed due to bad weather. Flights can resume after the weather has passed, however, so it's important to continuously check the status of one's flight to be sure.
  • Mechanical Problems. Although rarer than bad weather, planes do have a lot of moving parts and, occasionally, these do break. Delays caused by this won't always result in a cancellation, but travelers can expect to wait until the plane has been repaired to resume takeoff.
  • Computer Glitch. More common than mechanical problems, computers run everything behind the scenes. If something isn't computing (no pun intended), airlines will throw a delay in to be sure that everything is as it should be before proceeding with a flight.
  • Too Few Passengers or Crew. If a flight doesn't have enough crew, the flight can't proceed until the plane is staffed. If there are too few passengers on board, the flight might be canceled due to a lack of filling seats. Safety and the monetary value of flying a half-full plane are both factors in these delays or cancellations.

Once the reason has been determined, it's time to take action - head to the nearest agent's desk, according to CNN. When it comes to re-booking or getting on another flight, obviously, these options are first-come, first-serve.

While waiting at the agent's desk, consider pulling double-duty and calling the airline help line in order to book something over the phone. This opens up more options and a traveler might be able to book a seat on another flight without even having to speak to someone in-person. This puts the odds in your favor.

Know Your Rights As A Traveler When A Flight Is Delayed Or Canceled

At one point in time, airlines were required to re-book flights for travelers who faced delays or cancellations. While that is no longer true, travelers should always know their rights after purchasing a plane ticket. It's helpful to be familiar with the Contract of Carriage, which details what passengers are entitled to, given the situation. Depending on the airline, one might be entitled to things such as:

  • Food vouchers
  • Hotel stays
  • Discounts
  • Refunds

To find this, travelers only need to Google 'bill of rights + the airline' and it should pop up in search results right away.

When traveling in Europe, airline passengers are entitled to different rights depending on the length of the delay. If a plane is delayed for three hours or less, there's usually nothing travelers can do but wait. However, if a delay is more than three hours, travelers might be entitled to compensation and even a hotel stay if overnight accommodations are required. For delays that are longer than five hours, travelers can expect a full refund for their ticket or a return flight at no cost to them, according to EC 261/2004. In the case of cancellations, the airlines must offer a variety of refund and re-booking options under EU law.

Related: That's Awkward: Guide To Good Social Flight Etiquette

Dos & Don't's Following A Flight Delay Or Cancellation

There are many dos and don'ts that travelers should know following their flight cancellation. Some are obvious while others might just be helpful in the event that this does happen unexpectedly.

  • Do: Spend the time scoping out an airport lounge in order to pass the time in a comfortable way.
  • Don't: Be rude to airline agents or the helpline; the world of travel is still adjusting and everyone is doing their best.
  • Do: Continue to monitor flight status via apps or the digital boards around the airport, if there's a comfortable lounge spot nearby.
  • Don't: Take a chance booking a flight with tons of layovers for important or timely trips.
  • Do: Explore the airport in the meantime, or consider booking an airport hotel if the flight is facing an overnight delay.

Delayed and canceled flights are transportation nightmares that no traveler wants to deal with. They do happen, though, and the best thing we can do is arm ourselves with the best plan in the unexpected turn of events.