Due to a range of problems — weather, a labour shortage, reduced capacity — flight delays and cancelations have been an even bigger hassle than usual this summer. While you might not be able to avoid them completely, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from too much aggravation.
Book your trip with delays or cancelations in mind
Wherever you can, try to give yourself maximum flexibility — especially as the pandemic is still capable of putting the kibosh on your travel plans. To protect yourself, consider these tips.
Take an airfare refund if it’s your best option.
Sometimes flight delays and cancellations are so significant that you might as well cancel your flight and take the refund. According to the Department of Transportation, if a flight is cancelled for any reason and the traveller chooses not to be rebooked on that airline, the passenger is entitled to a full refund.
If there’s a “significant delay” the airline should give you a full refund, although they might fight you on that, as “significant” is vague. Before you book the flight, check the airlines’ cancellation policy on how they define it. Many airlines will try to offer a voucher, but you can push for a cash refund, too — particularly if you can point to their own refund policy.
When a flight is cancelled or delayed, do everything you can to talk to an agent quickly. For example, if you’re at the airport waiting in line to talk to a ticket agent, use that time to reach the airline through their app or by phone. Also use sites like Google Flights or Skyscanner to keep tabs on alternative flight schedules.
Know how to reach your airline.
This is not easy to do, as phone lines have been swamped. If phoning fails, consider social media or even going directly to the airport to talk to a ticket agent.
Stick to direct flights.
The fewer connecting flights you have, the less likely they will be delayed. Sure, direct fares can be more expensive, but in this case, with all the uncertainty with travel, spending a bit more will act as a bit of insurance against unexpected delay or cancellations. Consider splurging on flexible fares and avoid cancellation fees if you can.
Book seats together if you’re travelling with friends or family.
To ensure that your travelling companions’ seats aren’t scattered to the wind once the flight is cancelled, book all your seats as part of one reservation, as you’re more likely to be rebooked for another flight as a group.
Give yourself more time between connecting flights.
The rule of thumb is give yourself 60-90 minutes to connect with domestic flights, and two hours for international flights. However, consider a longer layover — closer to three or four hours. Sure, it stretches out your travel day, but think of it as a form of travel insurance, especially if you’re connecting to a regional flight that only runs a couple times a day.
Avoid checking luggage.
Checked luggage can be a big factor in whether you’ll be able to rebook with another flight, especially on short notice. Plus, it helps you avoid the crowds at the luggage carousel.
Consider buying travel insurance.
Your credit card likely offers some protections for cancelled flights, so you’ll always want to pay for airfare with plastic. And if you have trip costs that you don’t want to pay in case a flight is cancelled or delayed (such as a booth at a trade show), consider additional travel insurance that will cover those expenses. The insurance can range widely on what it actually covers, so double-check the fine print. There are pricey “cancel for any reason” policies available, but they might be worth it depending on the nature of your travel.