Ask LH: What Should I Do When My Flight Gets Cancelled?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ll be travelling a lot over this Christmas break, and I’ve had some bad experiences in the past with flights getting delayed or cancelled. What can I do when the unexpected happens and my flight gets cancelled? Thanks, Terrified Traveller

Image remixed from Nicemonkey (Shutterstock) and astudio (Shutterstock).

Dear Terrified,

Cancellations and delays are an annoying fact of life. The more you travel, the more you’re bound to run into this problem, especially during bad weather periods. Here are some things you can do to make the best of a bad situation.

The first key point? Don’t be an angry, abusive arsehole. The staff you’re speaking with aren’t directly responsible for the flight delays, and yelling and screaming is not going to endear you to anyone.

Plan Ahead Before You Fly

Planning ahead is the most important element when minimising cancellation issues. This includes careful consideration when you’re choosing your airline. If one airline is $20 cheaper than its rival but the latter flies to your destination more frequently, the extra $20 could be worth it, since there will be more flexibility if a flight experiences issues. Avoid flights which only have a very brief connecting time, as that multiplies the odds of things going wrong. For domestic flights, at least an hour is useful; for international flights, I’d favour at least two hours, and three or more if flying into the US, since its immigration and transfer processes are so onerous.

Packing light is also a good strategy. If you need to change flights, life will be simpler if you don’t have to retrieve luggage from the plane’s hold or the airport system. We’ve covered lots of tips for light packing in the past. Even if you do end up checking luggage, make sure you have a charging cable for your phone in your hand luggage (and an adaptor if you’re heading overseas). If anything goes wrong, power is going to be a crucial requirement. Photo by Sonya.

Check Carefully On Multiple Channels

Flight information leaks out at various speeds. I’ve often found that checking the airline status page gives me more accurate information on expected flight departure times and delays than the airport display boards. It’s also worth making sure your phone number is registered with your booking so you get text message updates. If you’re going to be forced to queue up to register for alternative flights or overnight accommodation, advance notice can get you to the front of the line faster. For this reason, having a fully-charged phone definitely helps.

Get Some Compensation (If You Can)

Airline compensation policies vary in terms of what they offer. Most domestic airlines will provide accommodation if you can’t be flown to your next destination, though they won’t always sort everything else. I’ve been delayed with Jetstar and given a night’s accommodation, but expected to fund my own way back to the airport the next day, for instance. Anecdotally Tiger is the narkiest of the local options, but even there you’ll be accommodated if no other flights will be arranged.

It’s often the case that airlines will compensate you for the side expenses associated with a delay (such as breakfast the next day), but only after submitting receipts, which means you’ll have to pay up front. The lesson here? Make sure you have a little spare cash before you board the plane. (It’s often tempting to spend the last of your currency when leaving a country, but this is one reason not to do that.)


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