How To Cope With Airline Delays

The return of volcanic ash clouds has shut down Australia’s major airports and left thousands of travellers stranded. Here are some common-sense strategies for making the best of those kinds of situations.

I fly a lot, so I’m something of a veteran when it comes to getting stuck in airports or having flights delayed by several days. I got caught up in the Icelandic volcano eruptions that shut down European airspace last year, and I still have unpleasant memories of a one-hour flight in Europe that eventually managed to take off a full 24 hours late, and from an entirely different airport to boot. Earlier this year, a brief security violation at Sydney Airport left me stuck on the Gold Coast overnight, and right now I’m in London and facing the prospect of a potentially extended stay if flights in and out of Sydney end up delayed over the weekend. That’s not what is being predicted right now as I write this, but predictions in these circumstances are often inaccurate.

Indefinitely delayed flights are deeply annoying, but yelling and screaming will do nothing to change the situation — the weather is not a giant conspiracy by the airlines to ruin your life. You’ll get home eventually; here’s some strategies to consider while you wait to see what eventuates.

Don’t be a douchebag. This is obvious but worth reiterating: screaming at airport staff (or call centre employees) is not going to help anyone. Everyone is in the same boat. Stay calm. It’s better for everyone in the long run.

Don’t head to the airport without a confirmed flight if you can avoid it. Whenever there are major delays airports are crowded with snarly, angry people. If you don’t have a flight — or if it’s a day like Wednesday when all flights from some airports have been pre-emptively cancelled — there’s not much point being there. Assuming you’ve got a house, hotel room or library to go to, you’re better off waiting elsewhere and checking periodically.

Make sure your phone is fully charged. A smartphone is your best friend when it comes to staying informed, whether at the airport or while you wait. When you do head to the airport, make sure it has a full battery (and that your charger is in your hand luggage). Tempting though it is, passing the time by playing Angry Birds isn’t necessarily a wise idea; keep the phone for checking and calls and read a newspaper, magazine or book instead.

Bookmark the relevant airline pages and Twitter accounts. With long-running delays, airlines will often create an updates and information page. Bookmark this so you can get to it quickly; outages on main sites aren’t uncommon when thousands of people are trying to check for the latest news. If you’re waiting on information for a specific delayed flight, also bookmark the flight status page. In my experience, airline web sites often get times and details updated ahead of the actual information boards within the airport.

It can also be worth checking for official airline Twitter accounts (local examples include Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tiger), which sometimes distribute information more quickly than it hits the actual sites. (That’s not always the case; Tiger doesn’t seem to have touched its account for months.)

Share the power outlets. Most airports do have power outlets in various nooks and crannies, but there are rarely enough to cover everyone whose smartphone has chewed through the juice. Once you’ve charged your phone, don’t hog the outlet; let someone else use it. If you follow our standard advice and always travel with a powerboard, you will be super-popular.

Read over travel insurance policies carefully. Depending on the kind of policy you have, you may be covered for accommodation, food and other necessities if your journey is unexpectedly extended. Many airlines will also try and put you up when that happens, but if you’ve got an insurance option, that’s likely to be more flexible, and you won’t be competing for hotel rooms with hundreds of other passengers from the same flight.

Minimal luggage is your friend. This obviously isn’t advice you can use if you’re already halfway through a trip, but it is worth bearing in mind for the future: if all you have is hand luggage, your options are much more flexible when disaster strikes. If a particular flight is cancelled or delayed, passengers without luggage often get shifted onto alternative services first. If everyone has to get put up for the night, then you can join the queue to get assigned a room much faster if you don’t have to collect your baggage again first.

Got other tactics for dealing with airline delay stress? Share them in the comments.


  • Nice article, and great tips there, Angus. One small thing to be aware of with the travel insurance tip, is to make sure that your travel insurance accommodation policy still applies if there were other options. That is, if the airline was willing to put you up in the airport hotel, but you elected to stay somewhere else because there was an accommodation clause in your insurance, make sure that your insurance doesn’t say that the accommodation won’t be covered if you were provided with accommodation by another at fault party (ie. the airline).

  • Can you recommend a website to keep up to date with news of the ash cloud in relation to flights ? I’m off to NZ next Tuesday and it would be really useful.

  • Pack a change of clothes and underwear in your carry on. Even on long international trips. We became accidental tourists in LA after QANTAS cancelled flights to Australia on Tuesday/Wednesday. TID in the USA would not release our checked in luggage so we only had our carry on bags and clothes we were wearing. After some complaining we got amenties kits from QANTAS plus the hotel hair dryer helped dry out hand washed underwear.

    • makes a bit of sense. but it is much simpler to go and buy some basic clothing and underwear if needed, rather than carrying a change of clothes at all times.

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