Delayed or Canceled Flight? Here Is What to Do

Molly Steckler
person looking up at flight schedule

Delayed or canceled flights are a travel headache you’ve probably encountered before (or will in the future). This is your comprehensive guide of everything you need to know about flight delays and cancellations.

Learn strategies to reduce your chance of a delayed or canceled flight and follow a step-by-step guide if it does happen. Also, see how travel insurance could be the financial security you need for your trip.

Jump Ahead


Pre-Flight Tips to Decrease Your Chance of a Delayed or Canceled Flight

There are ways to decrease your chance of experiencing flight delays or cancellations before you even book your seat. These tips will keep you ahead of the game and help prevent any travel mishaps.


Book a Morning Flight

Consider the time of day you’re booking your flight. Flights in the afternoon are more likely to be delayed due to delays from earlier in the day. Consider a morning flight to reduce your chances of a delay.


Book a Mid-Week Flight

Mid-week flights tend to be more affordable since fewer people travel mid-week. Flights also tend to have a less likely chance of getting delayed for that same reason. Choose a mid-week flight, if you can, to save both time and money.


Book a Non-Stop Flight

The more stops you make on your journey to your destination, the more likely that one of them will be delayed. Consider non-stop flights if you want a better chance at arriving to your destination on time and less hassle managing layovers.

Just make sure to get up and stretch your legs every hour to help your body handle the longer airtime.


Keep an Eye on the Weather

Do your best to avoid any serious weather situations that may lead to long delays or cancellations, especially if you are planning your trip last minute and have access to more accurate weather reports.

You might even consider switching flights (though, there is often a fee) to avoid inevitable delays or cancellations because of weather.


Be Strategic When Flying During Holidays

Visiting relatives during a holiday? Make sure to plan your flights strategically. Avoid the busiest days for travel that often include the day before and the day after a holiday.

Consider extending a trip, if you can, to avoid the rush of travelers. You’ll be less likely to get bumped to a later flight or experience delays.


Pack a Carry-On Only

Consolidate your items into a carry-on bag when possible. Not only might it save you money and time by not checking a bag, but you will also have access to everything you need in the case of a delay or cancellation.

Lost or delayed luggage is more likely if you run into issues while flying, so consider sticking to your carry-on for preventative measures.


Purchase Travel Insurance

Travel insurance, often referred to as flight insurance for its coverage of booked flights, has the potential to ease financial burdens during travel headaches. Benefits like Travel Delay, Trip Cancellation, and Baggage Delay could mean reimbursement for some necessary expenses while dealing with a delayed or cancelled flight.

Travel insurance can reimburse you for overnight necessities if your bag doesn’t arrive until the following morning. It can even reimburse you for unused prepaid expenses, like pre-paid tickets for a tour, if your delayed flight causes you to miss it.

A comprehensive travel insurance plan may even provide coverage for medical evacuations and unexpected medical bills while traveling abroad. Insure your trip from unexpected emergencies so that money is one less thing to worry about during delays or cancellations.


Read the Fine Print for Your Airline

Many questions you may have about your flight delay or cancellation can be answered in the fine print on your airline’s website. Your airline will lay out its procedures for delays and cancellations, so take a look before you purchase.

Print out a copy to keep on hand or save it to your phone so you can access it at any moment. 

Are you ready to travel, but not sure where to go? You can use these 50 travel websites to help you find the perfect destination.

 people boarding an airplane with flight insurance

What to Do When Your Flight Is Delayed or Canceled

It can be confusing and stressful when you find out your flight was delayed or canceled. Thankfully we’ve broken down what you should do into four steps. Following these steps will ensure you’ve acquired the information you need to make decisions for you and your fellow travelers.


1. Speak with an Airline Representative

Seek out an airline representative for answers to any questions you may have if you find out your flight has been canceled or delayed. They will have the most information about what your options are and whether the airline will provide any compensation for delays or cancellations.

Either walk up to the representative standing at your respective airline’s departure gate or call your airline’s contact number.


2. Find Out What Happened to Your Connecting Flight

Make sure to ask about your connecting flight if you have one. Airline representatives may be able to move your connecting flight if you can no longer make it on time. (Sometimes this is done automatically.)


3. Check Your Travel Insurance Policy

Seek support from your travel insurance provider if you have purchased a policy. You may receive compensation if your flight has been delayed for several hours (often five hours or more).

This can help cover the cost of accommodations, meals, and local transportation while you are delayed. Your travel insurance policy may even provide travel assistance services to help you book a new flight in the event of a cancellation.


4. Get a Lounge Pass

Consider purchasing a lounge pass if you plan to be at the airport for a while due to delays. Lounges are exclusive areas segmented for travelers and often provide a more comfortable waiting experience.

Lounges typically include comfortable seating, a quiet environment, and better access to customer service representatives. Some lounges even feature meeting rooms, Wi-Fi access, snacks, drinks, magazines, and even showers.

Airports may feature both airline lounges and pay-per-use lounges. Look for your airline’s designated lounge if you have a lounge membership. You can also pay a one-time fee to utilize lounge amenities. Though they tend to be costly, the quiet space may be ideal during long layovers or delays.

PRO TIP! Ask your airline representative about complementary lounge passes if your airline was significantly delayed. Though they could say no, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

family taking pictures in paris after a canceled flight


Know Your Rights as a Passenger for Delayed Flight Compensation

The best way to be prepared in the event of a flight delay or cancellation is to know your rights as a passenger. The Montreal Convention, EC Regulation 261, and the U.S. Flight Compensation each provide the rules for how airlines must compensate their travelers in the event of a delay or cancellation.

This compensation is more generally referred to as flight delay compensation, but it can extend beyond compensation just for delays.


The Montreal Convention

In 1999, 120 countries agreed upon this set of rules regarding how passengers are to be compensated. These rules allow for air passengers to claim compensation for “damages” caused by travel disruption as well as any luggage problems. (Damages usually refer to financial losses.)

Individuals are to be compensated up to $3,285.80 for damages and up to $70,000 in the event of a death or injury, according to The Montreal Convention. Compensation is required in the event of a delay, loss of luggage, or financial loss.

However, airlines are waived of any liability if the flight was disrupted due to extraordinary circumstances like bad weather, air traffic control restrictions, medical emergencies, and other reasons.

Travelers who wish to make a claim will need to provide as much proof as possible. This includes receipts for additional expenses, documents related to a flight or alternate flight, and a document from the airline explaining the reason for the flight disruption, if possible. 

Those planning on travel to one of the 120 participating countries should review their rights before taking a flight abroad.


EC Regulation 261

Those traveling within the European Union (EU) are entitled to compensation under the EC Regulation 261. If your flight is delayed more than five hours, you are entitled to a full or partial refund of your original ticket.

Travelers who are offered an alternative flight during an extended delay and are placed in a higher class than was originally booked cannot be charged for any addition payment. Likewise, travelers placed in a lower class can be reimbursed between 30% and 75% of the price originally paid.

Airlines are also required to provide passengers with a hotel room and transportation to and from the airport in the event of an extended delay that requires an overnight stay.

However, the airline does NOT have to compensate you if the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances, including:

  • Bad weather
  • Strikes of airport personnel
  • Union strikes
  • Bird strikes
  • Air traffic control restrictions
  • Political and civil unrest


You DO have the right to compensation if a delay is caused by technical problems or other reasons not defined as extraordinary circumstances.


U.S. Flight Compensation

The U.S. Department of Transportation sets the requirements for airline passenger compensation in the United States. Though airlines are not required to compensate passengers when a flight is canceled or delayed, they must provide compensation for anyone “bumped” from a flight that is oversold.

Airlines also must provide passengers with information about a change in the status of a flight (i.e., delayed, canceled, etc.) if it is scheduled to depart within seven days.

Travelers may be able to seek compensation for flights that are significantly delayed. According to the Department of Transportation, compensation for significant flight delays may be determined on a case by case basis.

Those who experience significant flight delays should check with their airline provider first. Some major airlines may provide compensation, even though it isn’t required.

people sitting in an airport considering delayed flights compensation 

How to Entertain Kids Through Flight Delays or Cancellations

Traveling with kids can be an additional layer of stress when dealing with delayed or canceled flights. Consider these suggestions for keeping both you and your kids occupied while waiting for your next flight.


Stay Calm

It’s important to keep calm in the event of a travel mishap. Kids are quick to emulate their parents’ emotions. Keeping calm will keep them happy and reassured even if you are stressed out.


Seek Out a Kids Play Area

A good way to keep kids entertained during delays is to find a place for them to run around and get their energy out (especially if you’re hoping they can sleep on the plane). Some airlines have designated play areas for kids to run around and climb on jungle gyms.

Sometimes just letting kids run up and down the terminal during less busy times can keep them entertained for a little while too.


Ride the Airport Tram

Larger airports may have trains connecting different terminals together. These trains can turn into exciting adventures for kids to explore different parts of the airport. Just make sure they are supervised while doing so.


Turn on a Movie

Though adding more screen time may not be ideal, sometimes you just need to sit your kids down with a movie or TV show. It can easily keep their attention for a while if you just want to relax or get some work done.


Leave the Airport

Delays longer than a few hours may mean enough time to get out and walk around. Consider taking the kids to a nearby park or restaurant just to get some fresh air away from a busy airport.

PRO TIP! Have you ever dealt with jet lag? Next time, take precautions to prevent jet lag so you can enjoy more of your vacation.

people on escalators in an airport terminal


Perks of Flight Insurance with a Flight Delay or Cancellation

Flight insurance (or travel insurance) can ease headaches about finances during travel delays or cancellations. Your travel insurance may cover you for unexpected travel expenses even if your airline won’t.

Here’s how just three common travel insurance benefits can ease your stress.


Travel Delay Benefit

Your Travel Delay benefit can provide compensation if you are delayed for a set number of hours—often 5 or more.

How the Travel Delay Benefit Works with an Atlas Journey Trip Cancellation Plan:

  • Atlas Journey Economy— Reimbursement of up to $100/day after a 5+ hour delay ($500 max)

  • Atlas Journey Preferred— Reimbursement of up to $150/day after a 5+ hour delay ($2,000 max)

  • Atlas Journey Premier— Reimbursement of up to $200/day after a 5+ hour delay ($2,000 max)

Trip Cancellation Benefit

Your Trip Cancellation benefit can provide reimbursement in the event your trip is canceled for a covered reason. These reasons often include an airline strike, severe weather conditions that cause the airline to shut down for 24 hours or more, an illness or injury that prevents you from traveling, and more. 

How the Trip Cancellation Benefit Works with an Atlas Journey Trip Cancellation Plan:

  • Atlas Journey Economy – Reimbursement up to 100% of trip cost ($10,000 max) 

  • Atlas Journey Preferred – Reimbursement up to 100% of trip cost ($150,000 max) 

  • Atlas Journey Premier – Reimbursement up to 100% of trip cost ($150,000 max) 

Baggage Delay Benefit

Delays or cancellations increase the likelihood that your luggage won’t arrive when you do. A Baggage Delay benefit can provide coverage if it your luggage and personal items are delayed – usually after 12 hours. Run to the store to pick up your necessities for the night with the assurance that you can be reimbursed.

How the Baggage Delay Benefit Works with an Atlas Journey Trip Cancellation Plan:

  • Atlas Journey Economy – Reimbursement of up to $200

  • Atlas Journey Preferred – Reimbursement up to $300

  • Atlas Journey Premier – Reimbursement up to $500

Get a quote today for your Atlas Journey trip cancellation plan and insure your next vacation.

Helpful Apps for Travelers

Technology can be a big help during travel mishaps. Keeping a few helpful apps on your phone to help in tight situations, like when you might not have enough time to wait in line to buy lunch or you want to find a lounge in your airport to relax. 

  • Grab (IOS & Android): Use Grab to pre-order and pay for food from airport restaurants and pick it up when its ready. This app covers 80 airports and over 2,000 restaurants for picking up food in a hurry.


  • LoungeBuddy (IOS & Android): Quickly find airport lounges near you with the LoungeBuddy app. Store your membership details with airline loyalty programs and see reviews of the best lounges worth seeing.


  • Planes Live (IOS & Android): Use this app to track planes all over the world and up-to-date information regarding delays and cancellations. You can track family members’ flights to know when to pick them up at the airport or view the status of any airplane.

PRO TIP! Make sure you have the best cell phone data plan for worldwide travel before traveling abroad.

Go with the Flow

Sometimes, delays and cancellations are inevitable. That’s why it’s important to be flexible while traveling abroad.

There are always a few bumps to overcome, especially when traveling abroad for the first time. Make sure you are traveling with the right mindset so you can handle any situation confidently.

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WorldTrips’ Atlas Journey, Atlas Cruiser, and Atlas On-The-Go trip protection insurance products are underwritten by Tokio Marine HCC’s U.S. Specialty Insurance Company (USSIC). USSIC is a Texas-domiciled insurance company operating on an admitted basis throughout the United States. Coverage is available to U.S. residents of the U.S. states and District of Columbia only. This plan provides insurance coverage that only applies during the covered trip. You may have coverage from other sources that provides you with similar benefits but may be subject to different restrictions depending upon your other coverages. You may wish to compare the terms of this policy with your existing life, health, home, and automobile insurance policies. Coverage may not be available in all states.

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