Use these 8 hacks to protect yourself and prepare for flight disruptions to minimize their impact.
While other airlines have had some delays and cancellations, in the last month, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have delayed or canceled thousands of flights. Airlines have encountered problems from severe weather to crew shortages, and to passenger capacity demands well in excess of industry predictions. Some industry insiders believe the problem will last through the summer.
Flight delays and cancellations can disrupt or even wreck our travel plans. We need to build safeguards into our plans to prevent missing an important event, cruise or tour, the best we can.
I’ve got eight major hacks that you can use to protect and prepare yourself in case your flight is delayed or canceled.
Petition to Sec. DOT — Don’t allow airline flight credits to expire. This is passenger money, not airline donations.
Build safeguards by booking flights defensively. Book morning, direct flights if possible, with everyone in the family on the same reservation.
Schedule your flight defensively:
Book your flight as early in the day as possible. Early flights are less likely to be delayed than later flights. Delays often steamroll through the day. Planes delayed in the morning continue being late on subsequent flights. Delays lengthen or become cancellations, particularly when weather conditions worsen in the afternoon and evening. In addition, when early flights are delayed or canceled, you generally have more rebooking options available than if your flight was in the afternoon or evening.
Try to book a direct flight or better yet a non-stop flight, if you can. If the first flight of connecting flights is delayed, that may cause you to miss the next flight. If you’re traveling with your family, make sure you’re all booked on the same reservation so that when you’re rebooked, you’re rebooked together.
Leave at least a day early if flying to a cruise, event, or tour:
Nothing is worse for travelers than watching your cruise ship or tour bus leave without you because your same-day flight was delayed or canceled. If your flight is delayed or canceled, forcing you to watch your event on television, if it’s even broadcast at all, will hurt.
Many recent flight delays and cancellations were due to bad weather. Particularly in months known for severe weather, massive flight delays and cancellations often occur. I always book my flight to arrive at least a day early for any cruise or tour leaving from the US. If traveling internationally, I arrive even earlier. Don’t forget that if you miss them, catching up to your tour will be expensive. You’re responsible for all extra travel costs to meet your cruise or tour. You are owed no compensation for any part missed. If you miss an event, there will be no refund.
Don’t book non-refundable deposits, prepaid expenses, and restrictive cancellation policies.
Minimize reservations that include nonrefundable deposits and prepaid expenses:
Try to minimize nonrefundable deposits and prepaid expenses when you travel to reduce your potential loss in case of flight delays and cancellations.
Minimize reservations that have restrictive cancellation policies:
More and more hotels, for example, require guests to cancel their reservations at least 24 hours in advance or longer. Try to avoid them in case of flight delays or cancellations that cause you to miss all or part of your stay.
Consider purchasing travel insurance:
Travel insurance can’t get you to your destination on time, but it can reimburse you for the costs a delayed or canceled flight might cause you to incur. Before you buy it, however, be sure you know what it covers and what expenses it reimburses. Read the fine print.
Know your rights under governmental regulation and your airline’s rules to be sure you’re treated fairly.
Carefully read your rights in the airline or cruise line contract of carriage:
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, if a US flight is canceled for any reason, passengers are entitled to a refund if the passenger chooses not to fly. This rule applies even if the ticket is non-refundable. Or, if the airline changes the schedule of the flight by (normally) two hours, you can get a full refund. Knowing your rights is a way to prepare for flight delays and flight cancellations.
Know your airline’s rules:
In addition to knowing your rights, you need to know the rules and policies of your airline(s). Every airline has significantly different definitions and rules that its passengers fly under. Check the appropriate sections of your airline’s Contract of Carriage. It governs what they will or will not do for you.
Pack defensively, have all relevant phone numbers you might need, and bring your emergency survival kit.
Prepare for flight delays — pack defensively:
You must have essentials in your carry-on in case your flight is delayed or canceled. Pack essential toilet articles, a minimum of a week’s prescription and non-prescription daily medications, plus your emergency medications, all important travel documents, anything you can’t do without, and a full change of clothing.
Pack snacks and purchase water to drink at the airport. It might not be possible to purchase anything to eat or drink if you must remain at your gate. Take an emergency survival kit. It should have essential first aid items, a cellphone charger, a power pack to charge the phone if the power is not available, a tablet with pre-downloaded reading material or a book, etc., plus a neck pillow. My fellow Travelers United writer suggests travelers bring a paperback or deck of cards to help spend the time when delayed.
Finally, have every conceivable phone number to contact your airline, hotel, cruise line, and travel agent, etc., memorized in your cellphone, in case Murphy’s Law comes into play. You’ve got to be ready to act quickly in case of problems.
Prepare for flight delays — keep important phone numbers backed up on paper
It will take preparation and planning for you to handle flight delays and cancellations well. I’ve arrived at destinations more than 24 hours later than scheduled more than once. I’ve had lost and delayed luggage. Even with those problems I’ve not missed important events or my booked tours and cruises. You can do the same by using these hacks and following your own commonsense.
(Image: Southwest Airlines B737 landing at Philadelphia International Airport. Copyright © 2018 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.)
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. Before entering the corporate world, Ned worked as a Public Health Engineer for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.