flight got delayed, what to do
A delayed flight can mess up your plan – canva

No matter how well you plan a trip, there can always be unexpected issues. Flight delays are a common source of stress for travelers, which is why it’s a great idea to find out what you can do in this situation. Read on to discover everything you need to know if your flight is delayed.

Reasons for Flight Delays

Flight delays can be caused by several problems. However, not all of them entitle you to any form of compensation. That’s why it’s important to know the differences between the causes of delayed flights. Here are some examples:

1. Weather Conditions

Problematic weather conditions are quite unpredictable and impossible to fix. Once they start, you just have to wait them out. Of course, some regions are more prone to bad weather than others. For example, San Francisco airport is regularly covered by fog. Other examples include storms, heavy snowfall, strong winds, and smoke from forest fires.

If you run into any of these, you’ll have to wait for your flight or pick another form of travel. And you probably won’t receive any compensation from the airline, except maybe a food voucher while you wait.

2. Crew Rest

Cabin crew and pilots can only work a certain amount of hours in a row. If they go over that time, which is usually caused by delays earlier in their shift, you’ll have to wait until they’ve had their rest period. If you’re lucky, the crew can be replaced by another and your flight will only experience a short delay.

Again, you’re not guaranteed any compensation in this case. The airline might offer you a food voucher or a change to another flight for free, but it’s not a given.

3. Air Traffic Control

Air traffic controllers are essential to the functioning of an airport and flight paths. If they have problems in their control towers or are striking, flights and ground operations must stop. Seeing as the airlines aren’t the cause of the delay, they don’t have to give you anything while you wait.

Scheduling conflicts can also come up. Some airports like JFK and Newark overbook take-off slots so that there aren’t lost slots due to other delays. This is regularly the case, but when everything actually goes to plan and all the planes are ready on time, there are too many to use the runway. Some flights will have to be delayed on the tarmac.

3. Mechanical Issues

The only case in which you must receive compensation from the airline is for mechanical issues. If your flight is delayed because of a popped tire, an engine that won’t start, a crack in the windscreen of the plane, or any other mechanical problem, you are entitled to proper compensation.

US Regulations on Flight Delays

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) controls the regulations on delayed and canceled flights. On their website, you can find information that says you are entitled to a refund if your flight is significantly delayed. However, there is no strict definition on what is a “significant delay”.

This means that if it gets to a point where you want to make a complaint to the DOT regarding flight delays, they will study it according to the length of the flight, the length of the delay, and your specific circumstances.

Waiting for Your Flight Time

You might hear about delays to your flight time in several places. You might be at home, in the terminal, or even on the plane. Here’s what you can do in each case:

1. At home

You might find out about a delay to your flight before leaving for the airport. This gives you a chance to find out more from the comfort of your home. It’s generally a good idea to put off your time to leave until you receive more information. If the flight keeps getting delayed by more and more time or is eventually canceled, you’ll have wasted a trip.

Stay on top of things by checking the airline’s social media accounts. You can also call their help line. If you are told to specifically arrive for the regular check-in time despite the delay, you should do that. The Federal Aviation Administration’s flight delay information website is also a good place to check airports with delays.

2. In the airport

If you’re already at the airport when the delay is announced, you should try and find out more information. Sometimes the schedule screens will tell you when the flight should take off, but if not, go to the help desk to ask (more on that soon). If it looks like the delay will be more than a few hours, you can ask for snacks or food vouchers. However, most airlines don’t specify a specific length of time during which they must provide you with food in the terminal.

In the case that you’re on a layover and your second flight has been delayed, you can try to collect your hold baggage. Depending on how they process your baggage during the layover, you may or may not be able to access it. Take a look through our article to find out more about getting your luggage during a layover.

Finally, try and take your mind off the delay with some activities. You can explore the airport, including its shops and restaurants. Some even have art installations and exhibits. Catching up on work is another option, or getting some exercise if there is a fitness center. If you’re traveling with kids, try and find a quiet area where they can rest, eat, and play so they don’t get too bored.

3. In the plane/on the tarmac

Here’s one of the few places where the DOT has specific rules regarding delays. If the passengers have already boarded and there is a delay of over two hours, the crew must provide everyone with water, snacks, operational lavatories, and medical care (if necessary). If the delay is over three hours, passengers have the right to deplane and wait in the terminal.

Of course, there are exceptions to this last rule. Passengers cannot deplane if the pilot finds reasons regarding security and safety that prevent them from letting people leave, and if air traffic control decides that deplaning would disrupt airport operations.

Delays that Influence Connecting Flights

Sometimes, delays don’t just influence the flight that is actually delayed. If you have a connecting flight later in the day, you might miss it because of the delayed first flight. Again, the solution will depend on the cause of the delay, but also on which airlines you get the tickets from. If both flights are provided by the same airline, you’ll have a better chance of finding a solution.

The airline can try to get you a flight to the nearest airport or find a spot for you on the next available flight. This can be on one of their planes or one from a partner company. In rare cases, you may be offered another form of transportation to your destination, for example, a bus or train ride.

More about the best action to take in this circumstance here: what to do if you miss your flight.

Asking the Airline for Compensation

Seeing as the DOT works on a case-by-case system, you will need to hope the airline you’re flying with is kind on these matters. Each company has its own Contract of Carriage that you can find on their websites. These contracts state what the airline can and will (or can’t and won’t) do for you in the case of delays or cancellations.

Here are the Contracts of Carriage for some of the major airlines in the US:

Forms of compensation

If you take a quick look through the “Delays” sections of the contracts of carriage for each airline, you’ll notice that there aren’t specific, general rules (except for tarmac delays). However, here are some forms of compensation that an airline can provide you with if your flight is delayed, even though they are not guaranteed:

  • Snacks or food vouchers
  • Water
  • Partial or full refund (money, vouchers, or credit)
  • Rebooking with no extra fees
  • Rerouting with no extra fees
  • Hotel accommodation
  • Upgrades and/or additional services
  • Other forms of transportation

Where to Contact the Airline

If you’re already at the airport when the delay is announced, your first instinct is probably to go to the airline’s Help desk. That’s a good choice, but remember that all the other passengers on your flight will likely do the same. If there are bad weather conditions and more flights are grounded, one hundred stranded passengers can quickly turn into thousands.

This is why you should try alternative contact points while you wait in line. You can call the airline’s service line, check their app for information, and try reaching out on social media. Some companies will get back to you much more quickly on Twitter than the line will move at the airport.

What to do once you managed to reach the help desk

When you get in touch with the airline, either in person, over the phone, or on social media, you should have several pieces of information ready. You’ll need your ticket or booking reference with your flight information. You should also save any receipts from expenses you gathered during the delay. It can also be a good idea to take pictures and screenshots of delay messages from the airline. These can be useful if you need to get back in touch with the airline at a later date.

You should also make a note of the names of the airline staff you talk to and the times you contacted them at. Finally, you should try to stay calm and polite despite your frustration. The staff will appreciate it if you talk to them calmly and without directly blaming them for the issue. You’ll have a better chance of getting some form of compensation than someone who starts ranting and shouting.

If the worst happens, here’s what to do and your rights as a passenger if your flight gets canceled.

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