If you’re headed to the airport anytime soon, brace yourself: It seems everyone else is, too. It’s been a brutal summer travel season so far, with long lines, canceled flights, and lots of unhappy travelers.
As more and more people return to the skies, fewer flights are taking off. Aviation trade group Airlines for America (A4A) says companies have already slashed 15 percent of planned flights from their summer schedule.
But let’s back up: How’d we get here? Like so many things today, all roads lead back to COVID. When the pandemic began, most people stopped traveling. Remember those pictures of empty planes flying with just a few passengers? Well, airlines offered a lot of employees early retirement or unpaid leave packages to offset losses. Now, as travel ramps back up to pre-pandemic levels, those staffing cuts are coming back to haunt us all.
So, what should you do if your flight gets delayed or canceled this summer? Read on for our tips.
1. Get In Line, Get On The Phone, And Reach Out On Social Media
Don’t just rely on the departures and arrivals screens for information. Find a gate agent and talk to them face to face to ask about rebooking options. They may rebook you on a different flight, or you can ask them to transfer your ticket to another airline.
While you’re waiting to speak to a gate agent, find your airline’s rebooking number and give them a call, too. You may find you’re able to get through with them faster.
And it never hurts to reach out on social media. See if your airline has a dedicated customer service account and send them a direct message. In our experience, airlines are most helpful on Twitter (as opposed to other social media platforms). Just make sure you have your reservation locator handy.
2. Download Your Airline’s App
Don’t leave home without downloading your airline’s app. If your flight is delayed, you’ll often see rebooking or refund options there. If you enable push notifications, you’ll also get timely updates on delays and cancellations as they happen.
3. Get Familiar With Delay And Cancellation Policies Ahead Of Time
Knowledge is power. Know your rights before you head to the airport so you can make informed decisions if your flight is delayed or canceled.
If significant delays disrupt your travel plans, you may be entitled to get your money back. Airlines may try to give you a voucher instead, but you can usually insist on a refund.
Also, consider booking your trip on a credit card with trip delay coverage. Many premium credit cards offer this perk as secondary protection — for example, your airline may provide food vouchers in the event of a significant delay. But what if you need to book a hotel? That’s where a credit card with trip delay protection comes in handy. Be sure to read the fine print, though: There are usually strict requirements on what constitutes a major delay (usually more than just a couple of hours) and you usually have to cover the costs upfront and get reimbursed later.
Pro Tip: If you’re flying to, from, or within the European Union, you may have extra protection under the EU261 rule. Travelers delayed more than three hours can be compensated, as long as the delay isn’t due to “extraordinary” circumstances.
4. Fly In the Morning, Choose Direct Flights Or Longer Layovers, And Avoid Checking Bags
Getting there is supposed to be half the fun. But this summer travel season, getting there is more like half the battle. To minimize the chance of disruptions on your trip, experts recommend flying in the morning, before the ripple effect of delays begins impacting schedules. Take the first flight out, if you can.
If direct, non-stop flights are an option, book those. If you have to connect, give yourself plenty of time — at least a couple of hours if possible.
Also, avoid checking bags. There is just too much opportunity for them to get left behind or delayed. If you must check bags, consider purchasing Apple Airtags for your luggage. If your bag gets lost along the way, Airtags can provide a precise location — even when your airline can’t.
Finally, give yourself plenty of cushion for time-sensitive travel. If you’re flying to a family event like a wedding or a graduation, or trying to make it on to a cruise, don’t fly in day of. It’s simply too risky right now. Arrive at least a day early to avoid disappointment or getting left behind.
5. Be Kind, Be Patient
This tip is evergreen but bears repeating now more than ever. Be kind to the airline employees and fellow travelers you encounter throughout your trip. No one enjoys delays or cancellations. Try to keep your frustrations in check and remember: Travel is supposed to be about adventure. Be flexible, be prepared, and be patient.
Need more info? Also read up on 4 Things To Know When Dealing With Delayed Or Canceled Flights (Summer 2022).