The Time-Wasting Mistake Many Travelers Make When Their Flight Is Canceled Or Delayed

It's the worst feeling in the world. You've been planning your vacation for months, saving up and making sure every detail is covered. You're at the airport and ready to board when you hear your flight has been delayed for hours. Maybe it's even been canceled. Like the other passengers on your flight, you rush to the customer service line to get rebooked so you don't miss your connection or get in too late to do what you planned for the day. Then, you wait.


As it turns out, that can be a waste of time and there are other actions you can take that might get you rebooked faster than the others and on your way, like speaking to a gate agent instead and contacting the airline directly. 

There are a variety of tips out there for quickly rebooking your flight or attempting to get a refund that doesn't involve the customer service line. We've got the steps you should take right away, even as you're waiting in that customer service line. There is also a really handy guide from the Department of Transportation (DoT) that tells you which major airlines do what for you. Add in the fact that airline customers have a new law coming into effect in the next few months that can help and there are definitely things you can do. Here's what you need to know about actions to take when your flight is delayed or canceled. 


The first steps to take when your flight is delayed or canceled

Customer service agents can help, but if you just wait in line, you may be wasting time. Flight attendant Essence Griffin told CNN that using your phone to search for other flight options and calling airline helplines is a better way to go. She also revealed that gate agents might have more information that can be helpful. "If you're at your gate and you're waiting and there's delays, you can always talk to the gate agent right there," she explained. "They have the power and knowledge to get you on different flights." They may also be able to offer you meal vouchers if you're stuck, or bonus miles. 


You can visit customer service, but while you're in line, jump onto the airline's app. You may have been automatically rebooked on another flight. If it's not going to work for you, you can ask to be rebooked again for free. Email the airline directly as well. (Always have your 6-character confirmation number on you.) Another rebooking option is a partner airline that works with the one you chose. You may have to pay out of pocket if you rebook on an airline that isn't associated with yours, however. If your flight is canceled, you will get a refund, but it can take a bit. However, as of April 2024, the DoT requires automatic refunds in seven business days for canceled flights, though airlines have six months to implement this.


More tips for delayed or canceled flights

Everyone from your flight will be calling the airline, and it's been suggested that the international number might get you faster service. If it's a domestic flight, that might just work. You can also contact them through the app and on social media, tagging the main handle for the airline, and their customer service handle if they have one. Before you leave for the airport, download the airline app and sign up, get any relevant emails, grab your confirmation code, and the social media handles so you don't have to do it while you're stressed. 


Additionally, you should bookmark the DoT website that lists what each major airline will do for you. Check your travel insurance to see what's covered, and the credit card you booked with may cover cancellations or delays. Trackers like AirTags will also be helpful in your luggage, just in case it doesn't make it off the plane.

Pack essentials like medication and a change of clothes in your carry-on in case you're stranded overnight. As the DOT points out, the airline may cover the cost of your hotel room, and it might also owe you if you're denied boarding for an overbooked flight. If not, book one fast if you need it because others will have the same idea.