What to Do in Case of Flight Cancellations

You're packed, at the airport, and ready to go – until an unexpected flight delay or cancellation turns things into chaos.

Flights can be delayed or cancelled for any reason, whether that is weather, technical difficulties, health and safety, or otherwise. These situations are often unavoidable and unpredictable.

In the instance of a serious delay or cancellation, your entire flight will be scrambling to figure out alternate routes, all at once. While the initial delay or cancellation may not be avoided, there are a few tips and strategies to make the experience as stress-free as possible, and get you to your destination as soon as you can. 

While Booking

When booking your flight and preparing for your trip, there are a few things you can do to prepare for possible cancellations or delays.

  • Flight Alerts
    Most airlines offer an ability to sign up for electronic notices of changes to your flight, whether that is an expected delay or a possible cancellation. These can often be sent by email, text message, and several other forms of notification.

    It is important to note, however, that you should always show up at the airport as if your flight is leaving on time. Waiting for hours in an airport terminal may be tedious; however, the airline is not responsible if the expected delay is shortened suddenly and you miss your flight.
  • Airline Policies
    When booking your flight, take a look at their website and research how flexible their rebooking policies are. Many airlines will implement special policies in instances such as serious storms or other weather- related instances; however, not all provide this.

    As well, be sure you know what you can be compensated for. Many airlines will pay for amenities, from refreshments to full meals and hotels, depending on the length and time of the delays or cancellations. However, these amenities often will not be offered outright – it is up to the customer to ask what can be provided. This will be easier if you are aware what you may be entitled to.

    At this time, it is also useful to take note of any toll-free numbers for your airline and/or travel agency. These numbers should be kept with your other important travel documentation. If you experience issues with your return flight from abroad, you will be able to contact help more simply with these numbers pre-noted.
  • Other Relevant Policies
    As a traveller partaking in airline transportation, you have certain rights that must be adhered to. The Flight Rights Canada (FRC) document details the rights of a flyer in the instance of circumstances such as delays or cancellations.

    While this document is not legally mandated to every airline, most major airlines operating in Canada have agreed to its tenets. It is useful to check beforehand whether your airline participates in the FRC Agreement. 
In the Days Before Departure

In your final days of preparation before your trip, it is important to be vigilant to situations that may cause potential delays or cancellations, and make arrangements if you think it is likely to happen. Caution can be exercised in several ways:

  • Weather
    Getting an idea of the expected weather patterns on travel days is extremely useful. Especially for flights with multiple layovers, do not forget to check the weather in each stop, as well as your departing and arrival cities and any in your expected flight path. Serious storms at any point in your journey can cause a disruption of travel, and impact your trip.

    If the weather prediction on your departure date is especially troubling, consider being flexible and moving your flight by a day or two in advance. Doing so can be a huge asset to your stress management.

    If you can avoid the worst of a storm, disruptions from a flight change can be lessened. While it may not be ideal, switching your flight dates in advance will cause less stress than trying to re-book with a crowd of people after the cancellation or delay.
  • Packing
    If you can, for shorter trips and weekend getaways, try to pack what you need in a carry-on versus a checked bag. Often, the baggage limit for a carry-on is more than sufficient for the essential luggage. By taking advantage of this, your bags will be in your possession at all points of travel, which can be a saving grace – especially if you expect your flight may be delayed or cancelled.

    In the instance of a delay or cancellation, the retrieval of checked baggage or the re-allocation of its destination can make it complex to board a new flight. This provides an opportunity for a loss of baggage. Carry-on bags are the traveller's own responsibility, not the airport's, and can therefore create a more flexible experience in the case of flight disruptions. 
If Your Flight Is Delayed or Cancelled 

In the instance that your flight is, indeed, disrupted by a cancellation or serious delay, the most important thing to do is to stay calm, and know the steps to take to get you on your way as soon as possible.

While a relaxed, level head is important, it is also important to act quickly in order to avoid being lost in a shuffle of confused and agitated travellers.

  • Maximize Your Options
    While airport staff will likely shuffle a flight load of travellers into lines to re-book and reschedule their travel, it is useful to call the airline while you wait. Speak with whomever you can as soon as possible, since often you will be able to reach a representative over the phone first.
  • Be Flexible
    Although the situation may not be ideal, being flexible with your re-booking or flight changes can make a world of difference. For example, if you were delayed on a flight into a specific airport, and a different flight is offered earlier to a nearby city, it may be worthwhile to take the alternate route, if you can sort out transport to your destination from there.

    This flexibility can set you apart from your fellow travellers hoping to get to the original destination, and get you on your way much faster.
  • Treat Airline Staff with Respect
    Flight delays and cancellations are often far beyond the control of airline staff. In the instance of a flight disruption, they are often bombarded with requests they do not have the ability to grant. It is important to remember that they too are in crisis, and be respectful when asserting your rights and requests.

    While most airlines are not obligated to reimburse or compensate your flight, it is beneficial to inquire whether or not this is possible. In terms of hotels and/or food, knowing your airline's policies as previously stated will help you know what to ask for in this situation.

    If the service you are given is bad or unacceptable, make note of what happened and file a formal complaint with the airline. This will be dealt with after the frenzy of re-bookings.