Travel tips: Here is what you can do if your flight has been canceled or delayed (2023)

CHICAGO -- Computer glitches. Awful weather. Staffing shortages. Holiday crunches. So many things can cause a flight to be delayed or canceled.

In the latest widespread incident, more than 2,400 Southwest Airlines flights were delayed on Tuesday, because of "data connection issues resulting from a firewall failure," prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a ground stop that was later lifted, CNN reported.

RELATED: Hundreds of Southwest Airlines flights are delayed after FAA lifts nationwide ground stop

Added onto a string of other incidents involving mass cancellations and delays, it's no wonder folks are wary about making it to their destinations on time -- or at all.

Here's some general advice to help travelers navigate the system when flights are delayed or canceled. Actionable tips are highlighted in bold:

Check the weather forecasts

Days ahead of the now-infamous December 2022 bomb cyclone, many US airlines offered their passengers a chance to change their flights for no fee.

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When you know a major weather event is forecast, hop on those waiver offers quickly, said Scott Keyes, the founder of (formerly Scott's Cheap Flights). The early birds have the best choices of the remaining worms (that is seats and flights).

Avoid getting trapped at the airport

As bad as it is to find out your flight has been delayed for a long time, or worse, canceled, it's better to find out from the comfort of home or a hotel room and make new arrangements from there.

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"Check your flight status before you go to the airport. Most of these notifications are not happening at the last minute," Keyes said. "Save yourself the drive to the airport."

Keyes told CNN Travel in an interview that you should sign up for airlines' free text alerts on the status of flights when you buy your ticket. You should also download your carrier's app.

You can also put your airline and flight number directly into a Google search bar to retrieve the status that way. That's also handy for friends or family who are on standby to pick you up.

Keyes also suggested checking the website FlightAware to track larger flight trends across the country.

If you're at the airport already

Sometimes, the delays and cancellations happen after you've arrived at the airport. Once the bad news has been delivered, what should you do?

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Keyes said to head fast as you can to the airline agents' desk -- and get ready to multitask while you're in line.

Fast is a key word here. "It's going to make a difference who arrives first. It's first-come, first-serve. Positioning yourself close to the desk can pay off," Keyes said.

Then you might want to call up your carrier while you're waiting. Depending on your spot in line, it might be faster to get through to a call center. "Whatever happens first, great," he said.

Calls to US domestic numbers might have really long waits. Keyes suggested trying an international call center for your carrier instead.

"Most US-based travelers aren't thinking to call the Canadian help line for Delta. You might get through to an agent much quicker. They can all handle your reservations just the same."

You can also use a self-serve kiosk, American Airlines says. "Scan your boarding pass or enter your record locator to see your updated trip details. From there you can also switch your flight and print your new boarding passes."

The travel advice website Travel Lens suggests using social media to your advantage.

"Not all customer service teams are as helpful as they should be and getting in touch with them via a phone call isn't always easy," it told CNN Travel in an email.

"Airlines value their reputation on social media and platforms like Twitter are a great way to get in contact with an employee. If you do use Twitter to reach out, then it's important to remain polite and calm as this will work in your favor."

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Attitude and research matter

Whether you're dealing with an agent in-person or over the phone, how you approach things can make a big difference. That starts with attitude.

"Honey attracts more flies than vinegar," Keyes said. "Look at this from the airline agents' perspective. They've been dealing with irate customers really since the pandemic began. The agent is the one who has the most ability to help you.

"Asking nicely and sympathetically is far more likely to get what you want than being a jerk about it."

He had another tip when it's your turn to talk to an agent about making new arrangements: "Come prepared to offer your own options already. Doing your own research is absolutely helpful."

Your agent can expedite things if you've already looked up new routes and possible suggestions while you've been waiting. Be ready to explain what you want.

If you've booked through Expedia or another third-party site, you'll have to deal through them when there's a cancellation.

If the price is the same, Keyes suggested you book directly with the airline. In case something goes wrong, "it makes it much more complicated with multiple sets of policies" when you booked via a third party.

US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, suggests you avoid layovers when booking if possible. The more times you stop, the more chances for something to go wrong.

The group also backs up the advice from Keyes to be nice and polite to agents but also says consumers should be persistent in trying to get the situation resolved satisfactorily.

Help from other airlines

Cooperation between airlines could work in your favor.

"When flights are canceled, many airlines have the option of putting you on another carrier's flight because they have interline agreements," Lousson Smith, product operations specialist at, told CNN Travel in June 2022.

"This means, for example, if Delta is having service interruptions but American is running a flight to your destination, you may be able to get on that flight."

"If you elect not to be accommodated on a later flight and you book a new ticket out of your own pocket, you are entitled to a cash refund, though that may not help you get to where you need to go," Smith said. "As we all know, last-minute flights are very expensive."

Trapped for the night

What do you do if it looks like you're not going to be able to fly out until the next day and you're not in your home city?

"Ask the airline to put you up in a hotel or give you a hotel voucher. They might do it; they might not. It's not required by law," Keyes said.

They're less likely to do it if it's weather-related, he said, than if the problem is a mechanical issue with the plane or staffing issues.

What you might get depends on the airline itself and the specific circumstances on why a flight was canceled.

Get to know policies. For instance, Delta Air Lines says it will provide a hotel voucher in some circumstances if travel is interrupted for more than four hours after the scheduled departure time when the delay is between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Whatever you do, at least ask, Keyes said. A voucher for hotels and even ground transport and meals aren't likely to just be offered.

In some cases, airlines will set you up with accommodations, Smith said, but it's a case-by-case basis and never guaranteed.

Also, your credit card could be your friend in this situation.

"The good news is that many credit cards offer travel protections such as reimbursement if a flight cancellation forces you to get a hotel, meals, etc." Smith said. "These travel protections are typically included automatically as long as you used the card to pay for your flight. Google your credit card plus travel protections to see what specific offerings your card carries."

If your flight is delayed instead of outright canceled, you might want to weigh whether to wait at the airport. Depending your personal circumstances, hunkering down there for five or six hours might be easier than going to and from a hotel. Also, Keyes said, check whether there is a hotel within the airport.

The Points Guy advises trying to get into an airport lounge if you can, where you can recharge your phone and rest more easily.

Stay safe. If extreme weather is causing air travel disruption, trying to make the journey by road could be hazardous. Frustrating though it is to stay put, it's always better to arrive late than not at all.

Travel insurance and receipts

Consider buying travel insurance, advises Airport Parking Reservations in an email to CNN Travel.

It said "most travel insurance policies provide additional cover for travel uncertainty. Additional [coverage] usually becomes applicable if your flight is postponed by more than 12 hours due to a strike, adverse weather or a mechanical breakdown."

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The site also advises that you keep any receipts of airport purchases. You can try to get the money back from the airline later.

But keep it to the basics. "Airlines only pay for 'reasonable' expenses though, so you are unlikely to get money back for purchases such as alcohol, expensive meals or extravagant hotels."

Refund entitlements for your flight

The US Department of Transportation says you are entitled to a refund of your ticket cost because of a cancellation or "significant delay" and you choose not to travel.

This is the policy regardless of the reason the airline cancels or delays the flight. However, what constitutes a "significant delay" remains open to interpretation.

According to the DOT website, "it has not specifically defined what constitutes a 'significant delay.' Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors -- including the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances. DOT determines whether you are entitled to a refund following a significant delay on a case-by-case basis."

Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp, said in an email to CNN Travel that flyers should try to avoid vouchers.

"If travelers are denied boarding, they should not volunteer their seat in exchange for perks or a voucher. If they do, they could be giving up their right to any additional compensation," Pawliszyn said. "Of course, if the airline makes a compelling enough offer, they may prefer to take it."

The-CNN-Wire & 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.


Travel tips: Here is what you can do if your flight has been canceled or delayed? ›

If your flight gets cancelled by the airline, you are entitled to receive either a full ticket refund or a new flight. If the flight is cancelled after you have already arrived at the airport, you are also entitled to care.

What are my rights if my flight is Cancelled? ›

If your flight gets cancelled by the airline, you are entitled to receive either a full ticket refund or a new flight. If the flight is cancelled after you have already arrived at the airport, you are also entitled to care.

Are airlines required to compensate for delayed flights? ›

There is no law requiring airlines to compensate passengers for delays, so most do not, according to Mody. "The minute your flight is delayed, get in that line to talk to a flight agent, and at the same time, take out your phone and call the airline," she recommended.

How do you handle a delayed flight? ›

9 Tips for Handling a Cancelled or Delayed Flight
  1. Be Polite, But Firm. When you pay for a ticket, you're paying for a ride on a plane that leaves at a specific time. ...
  2. Check For Reimbursements. ...
  3. Agree to A New Connection. ...
  4. Call the Airline. ...
  5. Don't Take It Out On The Flight Crew. ...
  6. Have Insurance. ...
  7. Arrive Early. ...
  8. Seek Out Lounges.
Aug 30, 2015

How much does your flight have to be delayed to get compensation? ›

Delayed flights: you may be able to claim compensation if your flight arrived 3 hours or more late. Canceled flights: you may be eligible for compensation if your flight was canceled less than 14 days before it was due to depart.

What is the legal limit for flight delay? ›

Delays. Under new federal rules, airlines operating out of the U.S. on domestic flights must allow passengers to deplane (i.e., exit the airplane) after a tarmac delay of three hours. Exceptions are made if the tarmac delay is caused by a safety or security threat or if air traffic control advises the pilot otherwise.

How do I ask an airline for compensation? ›

The first thing you should do when filing a claim for compensation for a delayed, canceled, or overbooked flight is to contact your airline. You can do this by calling them, writing to them, or asking a gate agent for the best method to file a complaint.

How do I ask for compensation for delay? ›

Dear Sir/Madam, As per Art. 7 Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004, I hereby claim compensation for the delay of my flight [flight number] on [flight date], for which I had the reservation [booking number].

What is covered by flight delay? ›

What is covered under flight delay insurance? You're covered when your flight is delayed beyond a certain time period. You may be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses including sundry items, meals and refreshments, and accommodations. Many insurance policies also outline accepted causes for the delay.

Can you complain to airlines for delays? ›

DOT requires airlines that fly to, from, or within the United States to state on their websites how and where complaints can be submitted. There may be a form on the airline's website for this purpose. Often, you may also email or write to the airline or ticket agent's consumer office at its headquarters.

How do I write a complaint for a delayed flight? ›

According to Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004, Article 7, I am writing to notify you of my intention to claim compensation for the flight delay I incurred on [flight date] on flight [flight number], and for your reference, my reservation number is [booking number].

What if my flight is delayed by 2 hours? ›

If your flight has been delayed for 2 hours or more, you are entitled to free-of-charge meals or refreshments, depending on the duration of your wait. If your domestic flight has kept you waiting for over 6 hours, the airline must communicate a reschedule time more than 24 hours before the original scheduled departure.

Do you deserve compensation for a 30 minute delay on plane? ›

The US Department of Transportation says you are entitled to a refund of your ticket cost because of a cancellation or "significant delay" and you choose not to travel. This is the policy regardless of the reason the airline cancels or delays the flight.

What is the passenger Bill of Rights? ›

What is the Passengers' Bill of Rights legislation? In short, the Passengers' Bill of Rights is a piece of legislation that would provide legal protection for fliers in the cases of delays, cancellations, lost baggage, and “junk fees” (in the words of President Joe Biden).

What if my flight is delayed by more than 5 hours? ›

Right to reimbursement or re-routing

In addition to compensation for your loss of time, if your delay exceeds 5 hours, you are entitled to a full or partial refund of your original ticket and a return flight to your point of departure, if needed.

What happens if you have 2 flights and one gets delayed? ›

AIRLINES OWE YOU NOTHING IN CASE OF A MISSED CONNECTION IF YOU BUILT A MULTI-TICKET ITINERARY YOURSELF. If you have combined two separate purchases and you miss your connection, you will have to buy another ticket to replace the one you missed, at your own expense. It's as simple as that.

Why are so many flights Cancelled? ›

Contributing factors include: Airline issues, like not having enough staff. Mechanical issues and delays may be compounded by staffing shortages. The Federal Aviation Administration is also experiencing staffing issues.

How to write a complaint letter for flight delay compensation? ›

Delayed/Cancelled Flight Sample Letter

My flight was **delete as appropriate** delayed/cancelled and as a result I was delayed by (add number of hours) to my final destination. When a flight is delayed or cancelled, I am entitled to claim a refund or re-routing to my final destination.

Can you negotiate with airlines? ›

If your flight has been oversold, you may get an offer to give up your seat -- but don't take the first offer you get. In these trying travel times, airlines are willing to negotiate.

How do I ask for compensation professionally? ›

How to ask for a salary range
  1. Be direct. Most people will tell you that in a negotiation, it's better to find out what the employer is willing to pay before you give your expectations. ...
  2. Be prepared to counter-offer. ...
  3. Know what you want. ...
  4. Ask your gut: Do you want the job or not? ...
  5. Be nice, no matter what.
Jun 21, 2022

Does flight delay cancellation cover? ›

Comprehensive travel insurance typically covers canceled flights that delay your trip for at least 3–12 hours. If your flight is delayed more than 12 hours, you may even qualify for trip cancellation coverage, depending on your plan.

What are the travel inconvenience benefits? ›

The Travel Inconvenience Benefits are offered as part of a Business Travel Accident plan to help employers fill gaps in coverage and help cover the cost due to trip cancellations, interruptions & replacements, rearrangements, and delays

What is the best way to complain to an airline? ›

It's often best to email or write to the airline's consumer office at its corporate headquarters. DOT requires airlines that fly to, from, or within the United States to state on their websites how and where complaints can be submitted.

Who is responsible for flight delay compensation? ›

Claim compensation for a cancelled flight

You're legally entitled to get compensation if the cancellation is the airline's responsibility and both the following apply: the replacement flight delays your arrival by 2 or more hours. your flight was cancelled less than 14 days before departure.

What happens if my flight is Cancelled and I cant get home? ›

Airlines often refer to this as being 'rerouted'. Although most airlines will book you onto another of their flights to the same destination, if an alternative airline is flying there significantly sooner then you may have the right to be booked onto that flight instead. You can discuss this with your airline.

What are my rights if my flight is Cancelled more than 14 days? ›

If a flight is cancelled more than 14 days before it is due to depart, the airline is responsible for providing you with a full refund. The airline may offer you an alternative flight, either on their airline or another airline. This is known as re-routing.

What rights do airline passengers have? ›

Airline companies must refund tickets for flights delayed more than four hours, as well as provide alternate transportation and compensation, and cover the costs of food and lodging, as applicable. Airline companies cannot use weather as an excuse for delays or cancellations that are actually their fault.

Do airlines refund flights if cancelled? ›

You are entitled by law to a full cash refund if the airline cancels, makes a significant schedule change or significantly delays a flight, so wait as long as possible to cancel. Unless a new law is passed, airlines won't be required to give you a refund if you're the one canceling.

Do airlines pay for hotel if flight is Cancelled? ›

Passengers are also required, by law, to receive meals, a hotel stay when the cancellation results in an overnight layover and a full reimbursement when the cancellation delays the passenger for five hours or more.

How do I claim compensation from an airline? ›

If you believe you have the right to claim compensation or reimbursement, you should contact your airline or airport directly. Compensation is not automatic, and you will need to contact your airline to make a claim. Many airlines and airports will have a claims procedure for you to follow.

Are airlines obligated to get you home? ›

Know the flight delay rules in the U.S.

If a flight is delayed for reasons beyond the airline's control, such as weather, strikes, air traffic control, and, yes, most mechanical issues, U.S. carriers are not obligated to do anything more than get you to your destination on their next available flight.

Can I sue airline for Cancelling my flight? ›

Unfortunately, airlines don't guarantee their schedules and the fine print on your ticket (or email confirmation) usually means you can't sue for a canceled flight. But that doesn't mean you can't or won't be compensated, and you may have some legal rights if your flight was canceled.

Can you sue a flight for cancellation? ›

Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. In the United States, airlines are not required by law to financially compensate you for a canceled flight, and even theories like breach of contract fall flat given the “small print” provisions of most airlines' ticketing policies.

What happens if your flight is Cancelled and you have to stay overnight? ›

The airline should arrange overnight accommodations for you, as well as transportation there and back to the airport, as necessary. This applies whether or not you have already been offered refreshments or compensation.

What recourse do I have against an airline? ›

Complaints about an airline or TSA

Airline service or discrimination - First, attempt to resolve your complaint with the airline. If the airline does not fix the problem, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Airline safety - Contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hotline.

What are airline 5th freedom rights? ›

Fifth freedom. The fifth freedom allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline's own country. It is the right to carry passengers from one's own country to a second country, and from that country onward to a third country (and so on).

What is Article 7 of the Regulation airlines? ›

Cash compensation

If the requirements for a compensation are met, Article 7 of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 obligates the operating carrier to offer each passenger a lump-sum payment of: €250, in the case of a type 1 flight; €400, in the case of a type 2 flight; €600, in the case of a type 3 flight.

How do I get my money back from a Cancelled flight? ›

How do I get a refund if my flight is canceled? File a complaint directly with the airline as soon as possible, Edman says. You should be able to find the complaint section on the airline's website, though you can also reach out via snail mail.


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