What to Do if Your Flight is Canceled or Delayed

Jessie Beck

Your trip was supposed to go smoothly. Get in a taxi, go to the airport, board a flight, and binge watch TV until magically delivered to your destination. Except, it didn’t — because your flight was delayed or canceled. Here’s what to do:

So, now what? Besides frantically calling your mom, best friend, or partner and trying not to panic, what should you do if your flight gets delayed or canceled? Take action, that’s what. But first, deep breaths. You’ve got this.

If you’re standing in the airport right now, these are your action steps, for a deeper dive, scroll down and keep reading:

My Flight was Canceled, What do I Do?

Delays and cancellations are always stressful to deal with, but with the right knowledge you can not only get through it and on to your next destination, but also receive help from airlines, credit cards, or travel insurance. In the event of an airline delay or cancelation you should:

  1. Check to see if you’re rebooked on another flight.
  2. Look up other options on FlightView or Google to negotiate your way onto a better flight if you’re not rebooked, or if you don’t like your ticket.
  3. Sometimes booking a different flight on a different airline is worth it, if you can afford it.
  4. Request a refund for no additional fee, as an alternative to rebooking.
  5. Try the airline app or website first, then a phone call to customer service, and as a final resort the desk or gate agent, to get assistance from the airline.
  6. Get assistance from the airline, your credit card, or travel insurance for additional logistical support, like food vouchers or a hotel.
  7. Follow up with the airline about additional compensation, especially if you’re legally entitled to it (which is the case if you’re traveling from or within the EU or involuntarily bumped from a flight).
  8. Get ahead of the problem by packing carry on only, rebooking weather-related cancellations as soon as you’re aware of them, leaving yourself buffer time when traveling for important events, and booking directly through the airlines.

Cancellations: Getting on Another Flight

If your cancellation was caused by something within the airline’s control, like a mechanical failure, you’re entitled to the support outlined in your airline’s “contract of carriage,” or a contract between the airline and passenger. Some, like Delta, provide a lot of support while others, like Southwest, provide less. For a full breakdown, Trip Savvy has a summary of the contracts from each major U.S. airline.

In the case of a cancellation beyond the airline’s control, like weather, they aren’t legally required to provide compensation, but they will almost never abandon you completely. Instead, your airline should rebook you on the next flight out or allow you to request a refund for no additional fee.

Regardless of the cause of delay, here’s what you should do to make sure you’re on another flight — and one you’re happy with:

First, Check the App

Right away, check the app to see if you’ve already been rebooked on another flight. You can also check your email inbox. Airlines will often send a notification to your app or email inbox about changes to your ticket.

Look up Other Options and Negotiate Another Flight

If you have a new ticket you’re happy with, great — skip on down to the next section. If not, know that you don’t have to keep it. You can always negotiate your way onto a different flight. To do so, first use an app like FlightView (or plain ol’ Google) to look up other available flight options. Then, use the app, call the airline, or go to the gate to negotiate your way onto your preferred flight.

Of course, if there is a widespread weather delay, you may be out of luck on going anywhere — in which case, you’ll either have to wait it out, cancel your flight and request a refund, and/or seek other modes of transportation (if possible).

Not Rebooked? 

Look up other options, then call customer service while standing in line.

If you don’t yet have a ticket on another flight, then you’ll need to talk to someone, but getting ahold of a busy gate agent can either be difficult, or impossible if you still haven’t left for the airport.

So, first, turn to your app or their website to try rebooking. If that doesn’t work, call customer service instead of talking to a gate or desk agent. If you’re nervous, I’d suggest calling customer service while standing in line to talk to a gate or desk agent. Often, you’ll be able to reach a customer service rep more quickly over the phone and resolve your issue sooner.

Be Nice

Whoever you talk to, be nice.

Cancellations can get chaotic and stress everyone out, but it’s still important to keep your cool and be nice. Airline employees are far more likely to pull favors if you’re calm, collected, and polite when you talk with them.

Delays: How to Take Care of Additional Logistics

Like rebookings, the amount of support an airline provides to cover food vouchers and hotels (if the delay is overnight) depends on the airline’s rules and regulations. In general, they will not provide food and lodging for a delay or cancellation beyond their control — like weather — but will do so if it is something within their control — like a mechanical difficulty.

If you are in a situation where you’re entitled to a food or lodging voucher, you’ll have to go to a gate agent to retrieve this. Generally, they’re actual paper vouchers that you’ll have to physically give to the hotel they book you at — no doing that digitally (at least not yet).

If the airline is not providing any assistance with food or lodging, you could next turn to your travel insurance (if you have it) or credit card for assistance. If you’re expecting to get a refund from your travel insurance or credit card, save itemized receipts for your food and hotel. Note that they won’t refund you for alcohol — no matter your case for that de-stressing glass of wine. If you’re turning to your credit card for reimbursement, make sure you pay for your food and hotel with that credit card. 

As for finding a hotel, airlines will often help you book a room at a hotel — even if they’re not footing the bill — but apps/websites like HotelTonight will be quicker and easier.

Get Compensation for the Delay

You’ve gotten another flight or refund and, if you’re lucky, a voucher for a meal and room at a nearby hotel — but compensation doesn’t stop there. In some cases, you’re legally entitled to additional compensation. Here are two common situations:

  • If you are flying from or within the EU, the airline is legally required to provide compensation up to €600 ($700 USD).
  • If you are involuntarily bumped from a flight because it was overbooked and you are not able to reach your destination within an hour of the original arrival time, you are legally able to claim up to $1,300 in compensation (200-400% of the cost of a one way ticket).

You can put in a request for either of these compensations directly through the airline.

Even if you aren’t flying through the EU or involuntarily bumped from a flight, you may still be able to petition for additional vouchers or discounts to use towards future flights. There are a couple of ways to go about this:

Ask for Compensation Immediately

Ask for compensation immediately when you’re sorting out your rebooking or refund. For example, a friend of mine recently missed a connecting flight that put him at risk of missing the wedding he was traveling to attend. Initially, the airline simply rebooked him and give him a hotel voucher, but he then asked for additional compensation to cover the inconvenience. He walked away with $400 in flight vouchers, simply for asking.

Submit a Claim to Customer Support Online

If you weren’t able to handle this in the moment, you can always send an email to your airline’s customer support team later on. Again, be nice, explain the inconvenience this caused, and clearly request additional compensation for your time.

Preventative Measures

Dealing with a delay or cancellation is never fun, but there are a few tips to make them a little easier to manage. 

Never Check a Bag

What if you’re able to get rebooked on another flight but you have to run to the gate right now. No checked bag is going to wait for you (or be waiting for you at your destination) if that happens, so pack carry on only in a travel backpack and give yourself the freedom to run towards your next flight — not away from your luggage.

Rebook Sooner Rather Than Later

If you have advance warning of a possible cancellation, call your airline to reschedule now rather than waiting for the day of. Often, they’ll do so for free and you’ll be able to get on a better alternative flight. My partner was once delayed four days because he waited until the last minute to rebook a flight canceled during a snowstorm. Had he been proactive, he could have grabbed one of the flights that left the next day.

Book Directly Through the Airlines 

In the case of a flight delay or cancellation, the airline’s customer service should be able to take care of your reservation, even if you’ve booked through an OTA (like Expedia). However, if you want to make any changes to your ticket or ask any favors as a preventative measure, you’ll have to go through the OTA you booked with, not the airline.

So, if prices are comparable, always book through the airline and not an OTA. After all, who wants to negotiate a new ticket with CheapOAir’s shitty customer service when you can speak with a delightful Lufthansa rep?

Schedule Flights Early When Traveling for Important Events

Don’t let a delay keep you from your best friend’s wedding because your flight had you landing two hours before the service. Where time and prices permit, give yourself buffer time so you’re not stressing out more than you already need to in the event of a delay.


Get a Free Carry on Packing List

Join our email list for more packing tips and gear guides.

When you sign up, we’ll send you a free carry on packing list to get started.