If there are two things that every traveler hates, it’s flight delays and flight cancellations.
The U.S. Department of Transportation had reported that in 2019, there were 19 million flight delays (almost 19% of all flights) and nearly 120,000 flight cancellations (almost 2% of flights).
Delays and cancellations happen for different reasons. It could be bad weather, airport equipment malfunction, a flight not arriving on time, government shutdowns, and so on. And it may seem like having a flight delayed or cancelled is out of your control, but believe it or not, you can actually have some influence on whether your next flight suffers from either problem.
First you need a special broom and a magic wand.
Er, wait, that’s not it. Here are some practical tips to make sure you do not book a flight that’s in a particular danger of falling victim to a problem.
1. Understand why flights get delayed
While a flight can be delayed for any number of reasons, there are a few patterns to look for. Flights are often delayed near the end of the day because of problems that happened earlier in the day. Flights are delayed during a region’s extreme weather seasons, like winter or the rainy season. And they can be delayed because of especially busy travel days, like the day before and after Thanksgiving. Once you know this, you can plan accordingly.
2. Research your flight’s on-time performance
You can check the history of a flight by simply entering the flight number onto the U.S. Bureau of Transportation website. It’s like going to carfax.com and putting in your VIN number to get an accident report on the vehicle. You get to see any history of flight delays that the carrier has, helping you make an informed decision of booking that flight or not.
3. Book an early flight
I get it, not many travelers like to get up at the crack of dawn to go to the airport. But should you book one, your flight most likely won’t be affected by incoming flights. As an added bonus, your fares may be cheaper due to the number of passengers that are booked as well.
4. Be ready for the the process
The fewer lines you can wait in, the better. So plan accordingly: Check your bags with the Skycap outside the airport rather than checking your bags at the airline counter. Better yet, don’t check a bag, just carry-on. Wear slip-on shoes and remove everything from your pockets before you ever get to the TSA checkpoint. Better yet, get TSA Pre-Check so you can skip the regular TSA checkpoints.
5. Be informed about your rights
Airline passengers have rights that entitle them to alternative travel plans in case something does go wrong. For example, mechanical issues may cause a problem with your flight. If that happens, call the customer service hotline and see if they will book your next flight for you, or go to another desk for the same airline and get rebooked over there. There are other perks you can get if this happens, such as meal vouchers at the airport restaurants, or even a hotel room if your delay will keep you there overnight.
However, you do not have these same rights if there are weather issues, so make sure you. . .
6. Check the weather before you leave
Always, always, always, check on the weather before you leave your home. Especially during a snowstorm. This goes for both the arrival and departure airports. A snowstorm is enough to cause a problem for several airports, and that can back up both arriving and departing flights. We’ve seen flights from Miami get delayed because of snowstorms in Chicago, including flights that weren’t going to fly into Chicago in the first place!
7. Get a room
In the event that your flight gets cancelled and you do not have a back up flight to catch, the next best thing is to get a hotel room. Many airports have hotels adjacent or nearby them, and most of them won’t charge you prior to your arrival. If you think you’re going to run into a problem, book a room and then cancel it 1 – 3 days before you arrive.
Just remember that most hotels have a 24 hour cancellation notification, so if you have to cancel, do it before that 24 cutoff point.
How do you deal with flight delays and cancellations? Have you been able to avoid these problems with some prior planning? How did you cope if you were surprised by a delay? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream. You can also find us on our Instagram page at @TravelproIntl.
Photo credit: Michael Saechang (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)