12 Things You Can Do to Handle Flight Delays and Cancellations

Odds are if you are a regular traveler -- and even if you’re not -- you will eventually experience a flight delay. These delays are caused by things including weather, air traffic control issues, mechanicals, crew problems, delayed aircraft, and airport security, to name a few. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a website with a great FAQ on delays and cancellations. But below are 12 things you can do to help minimize the effects of delays and cancellations.

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Keep Your Travel Information in One Place

app open on an iphone about flights

 Getty Images

Having your travel information available quickly can be key in handling a delay or cancellation. Use a free app like TripIt to do things such as keep flight confirmation emails and create a master itinerary. With the pro version, get real-time flight alerts, locate alternate flights and share travel plans.

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Use Your Phone

Young woman using cell phone while waiting for flight
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In the case of a flight delay or cancellation, you don't want to be standing in a long line with others who are stranded. So bookmark the list of airline phone numbers compiled by travel expert Johnny Jet to beat the rescheduling crowd.

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Know Your Passenger Rights

Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Most airlines have what's called a Contract of Carriage, which outlines what passengers' rights are in case of things including delays and cancellations. Check out the handy list compiled by Airfarewatchdog with links to the contract for major U.S. and international carriers. And click here to see what things the airlines do ​that cause travelers to be dissatisfied.

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Download the NextFlight App

Sometimes when there’s a delay or cancellation, you need to take matters into your own hands. For those with iPhones or Android phones, pay $2.99 and download this app. You type in the city-pairs you want, add the date, and it will give you a list of the non-stop and connecting flights available. Use this information when you’re negotiating with an airline trying to re-accommodate you.

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Sign Up for Airline Flight Status Notifications

Businesswoman at airport between flights
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Most airlines allow passengers to sign up for notifications by flight numbers. By doing this, you will always know where your flight is. And as a bonus, airlines will be proactive while you’re waiting to help accommodate you.

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Look at Causes of Delay Numbers

DOT (Department of Transportation) sign
Courtesy of DOT

DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report includes a summary of causes of delay numbers reported by each carrier for the most recent month.  

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View Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes

DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) tracks this data monthly ​and breaks it down by the airline, airport, and what caused the delay.

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Use Intellicast to check on delays and cancellations

Intellicast helps travelers track airport delay and weather information by clicking on dots on a map, clicking on an airport name or using the airport search tool.

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Go To Airline Websites For Weather Information

If the airlines know there’s going to be a major weather event like a hurricane or snow storm, they will post that information on their website.

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Sign Up for FlightView

Flight In Sight TPA example
Courtesy of FlightView

I did a post on this aviation data company here. One of the many things it does is offer flight notifications, and it even has the ability to tell you what’s happening with your inbound flight.

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Go Directly to the Source: the FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration offers travelers flight delay information directly from its Air Traffic Control System Command Center website. The website has a map of the United States that shows the nation’s major airport. You can look at that map and see delays by color code, or you can search by region, airport or major airport.

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Use Your Airline Elite Status

I currently have A+ Rapid Rewards status on Southwest Airlines. One of the many perks is a dedicated phone number I can call if there are any flight issues. And because I have that status, like it or not, the airline will be more willing to accommodate me because of the money I spend with them.