Flying in summer 2022 has not been an ideal experience. It seems like every other day there are headlines about mass delays and cancellations.
When cancellations occur, passengers can end up stranded, miss important events or arrive late for a long-awaited trip. Of course, we can’t control the many factors that lead to flights getting canceled, but there are ways to make the experience less painful.
Below, experts share their advice for reducing the risk of a flight cancellation, easing the stress and taking action so you may eventually reach your destination as smoothly as possible.
Expect things to go wrong
“The first step to traveling this season is anticipating that things will go wrong ― that’s just the reality as airports and airlines try to cope with staffing shortages,” said Julia Menez, host of the “Geobreeze Travel” podcast.
Managing your expectations is a good way to set yourself up for a better emotional response if a flight cancellation affects your trip. You might also be better equipped with things to keep you occupied at the airport should you find yourself standing in a long line to rebook your itinerary or waiting at the gate for the later flight you have to take.
Read up on what the airline owes you in the event that your flight is canceled. You may be entitled to compensation ― though it can vary based on the stated reason for the cancellation. The Department of Transportation’s website includes a guide outlining passengers’ rights, so you can be prepared to advocate for yourself.
“When it comes to flight cancellations, always expect the unexpected,” said Martin Jones, CEO of Airport Parking Reservations. “Organization and forward planning is essential to avoid that last-minute panic. It is important that you know your rights well ahead of your flight, thereby if your flight is canceled you are aware of what the airline is obliged to do for you as well as what you will need to organize yourself. This could include anything from putting you on another flight to providing accommodation until you can fly.”
Choose your flights strategically
With the expectation that things will go wrong in the air travel process, you should build in extra time to reach your destination if possible. If you’re traveling for a weekend wedding, consider booking a Thursday flight so that you have the extra day to make it there in the event of cancellations.
“Look to travel on less busy days, such as Tuesday-Thursday, and avoid weekend flights, since the more flights are scheduled, the greater the chance for a flight disruption,” advised Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay. “A quieter period in airports usually results in a smoother travel experience, so stick to weekday travel and try to avoid busy travel periods, such as holiday seasons.”
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of flying on a workday or paying for an extra night at a hotel. And there’s no real way to know if your flight will actually be canceled or rescheduled. Staff shortages, bad weather and mechanical issues aren’t necessarily something you can predict or control.
“However, there are steps you can take to make complications less likely or even less stressful,” Jones said. “For example, try picking a flight early on in the day. Not only do morning flights tend to be cheaper, but they are also typically unaffected by previous flight delays, increasing your chances of flying on time.”
Dittakavi added that summer thunderstorms are more likely to develop in the afternoon ― another reason to get moving in the morning. Keep the itinerary as efficient as possible as well.
“Try to book a direct flight,” Jones emphasized. “Direct flights reduce the potential of multiple flight delays or cancellations and also save you the hassle of having to catch connecting flights.”
Track your plane
“This summer, you have to be ahead of the game,” said Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy. “Even if you booked your flights months ago, check today to make sure your itinerary hasn’t been canceled or changed.”
You can track your plane in the days and hours leading up to your scheduled departure as well.
“There are so many great apps out there, like FlightAware, that let you track where your inbound aircraft is coming from and if it’s facing any delays,” Kelly explained.
Checking to see if the plane you’re supposed to take is being held or delayed before you head to the airport can offer advance notice that your flight might be delayed or canceled.
“Check your flight status before you go to the airport,” urged Scott Keyes, author of “Take More Vacations” and founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “If your flight happens to get delayed or canceled and you live in a location where there are a few different airports, it’s possible the best option for rebooking is at a different airport, like maybe JFK instead of LaGuardia if you’re in New York.”
The airline’s official app will also give status updates, so you can be prepared to change your itinerary as soon as something goes wrong.
“The best strategy is to set up immediate alerts on your mobile phone. This will give you more of a chance to rebook on an alternative flight before other people become aware of the disruption or delays,” Dittakavi said. “While this won’t stop your flight from being canceled, it will help ensure you can catch a flight on the same day ― relieving the stress of a frustrating experience.”
Don’t just wait in line
When flights are canceled, there’s typically a mass pilgrimage of passengers over to the airline’s help desk at the airport. With so many cancellations lately, hourlong lines have formed at these kiosks.
Of course, you should also try to rebook yourself on the airline’s app, which typically shows you all your alternative flight options as well. But if you prefer to talk to a person, remember you can make a phone call from the terminal as well.
“Don’t just stand in line at the airport,” Keyes advised. “Also call phone support. You might get through quicker than you’d reach the front of the line, and the agent can handle it all the same.”
If you’re flying a U.S. airline, Keyes suggested trying to call the company’s international hotlines for faster service as well.
“Everyone is calling the U.S. hotline, but fewer are calling their hotline in Canada, Australia, Mexico ― which has agents who can handle your reservation just as U.S. agents can,” he explained. “Of course, check your phone plan for international calling rates, but you could get it done in 15 minutes rather than hours and only spend 30 cents. I’d pay that to save hours of wait time.”
Arrive with a plan B
“Come prepared with a backup plan,” Keyes recommended. “Ask, ‘If my flight gets canceled, what’s the second-best option? What flight would I like to be on?’”
If you start your travel day with one or two plan B options, then you’ll be able to more quickly rebook yourself in the airline app ― or ask the agent you’re speaking with to get you on that flight.
“At the end of the day, you’re your own best advocate,” Keyes said. “They might not offer the alternative flight you want the most, but they can check your request if you ask.”
He also advised looking at options on other airlines beyond the one you booked for this trip.
“If you’re flying on a full-service airline, one benefit is ‘interline agreements’ between airlines,” Keyes explained. “In certain situations, they’ll put their passengers on a competitor airline.”
In addition to looking at other flight options, Jones also suggested familiarizing yourself with the hotels in the area.
“It is always a good idea to have a look ahead of flying at surrounding accommodation close to the airport just in case you need somewhere to stay at the last minute,” he noted. “Having a look into these factors can help to ease the stress of being stranded in the airport for hours on end while alternative arrangements are made.”
Travel with carry-on luggage
There have been countless headlines this summer about checked luggage woes. In the midst of so many cancellations, airlines have experienced major delays in returning lost bags to their rightful owners ― and on a global scale.
London’s Heathrow Airport developed such an overwhelming backlog that Delta Air Lines flew a plane from London to Detroit carrying 1,000 pieces of stranded luggage and no human passengers.
When flights are canceled at the airport, travelers generally rush to get on the next available itinerary. But if you checked luggage for your original flight, you may well end up arriving at your final destination without your things. By taking a carry-on bag, passengers can rebook themselves immediately after a cancellation without the headache of locating and retrieving luggage.
This is the time to test your packing efficiency skills. Do you really need all those pairs of shoes and extra jackets? Try to fit your clothes and other supplies into a standard carry-on suitcase that fits in the overhead bin on the plane, plus a smaller bag you can be put under the seat in front of you.
Choose travel insurance wisely
Throughout the famously uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic, travel insurance has become an increasingly popular purchase.
“Travel insurance including trip protection is not very expensive and can ensure you are protected financially,” said Omar Kaywan, co-founder and chief growth officer at Goose Insurance. “Whilst every one else is trying to contact the airline, you could be having your insurance company booking you on another flight to get you to your destination. Travelers must do some homework, though ― not all policies are the same, and reviewing the benefits as well as the exclusion of any travel policy is key. And if you are not sure, ask to speak with a licensed agent and get your questions answered.”
If you’re considering buying travel insurance, make sure to read all the fine print and understand what your options are. Once you purchase a plan, have the contact information and policy number readily available in the event that you need to use the company’s services.
However, remember that you don’t have to buy insurance to be protected.
“Check your credit card’s travel protections,” Keyes said. “Many credit cards automatically carry travel protections ― reimbursement, things if your flight gets delayed or canceled, if you need a hotel for a night. Check the card you used to purchase your flight to see what travel protections might be included.”
He also emphasized that all travelers are entitled to a full cash refund for their airfare if they don’t want to take the alternative option the carrier provides following a cancellation.
But no matter how frustrated you feel, try to keep in mind that airport workers do not control flight schedules, and refrain from taking out your anger on them. Remember that air travel is a luxury, and kindness goes a long way, especially as we continue to navigate an ever-changing pandemic.
“Airlines have been royally messing up this summer when it comes to operations, especially with cancellations,” Keyes noted. “But it’s still the case that the vast majority of planes are flying in the U.S. Even on the worst days, 19 out of 20 flights still flew, and on normal days it’s more like 98 out of 100 flights. That perspective is important.”
He noted that the number of cancellations is elevated when compared with previous standards, but the odds are still very much in your favor that your flight will operate as scheduled.
“Airplanes are more full than they were pre-pandemic. Even though the actual number of people traveling is still down, the number of flights going is down by more, so the result is fuller planes than before,” Keyes added. “But the odds that your flight is going to get canceled are still extremely low. Don’t let the perception of widespread chaos and cancellations lead you to cancel your plans preemptively.”
Menez, however, doesn’t blame weary travelers who decide to pass on the flying process during this busy season.
“We’re all dying to travel this summer, and it’s hard to avoid flight cancellations without avoiding air travel altogether,” she said. “My advice: if the destination is domestic and only a few hours’ drive away, don’t fly ― avoid the airport headache altogether.”