Colin Nederkoorn

What to do when your flight gets canceled.

May 02, 2016

You’re at the airport, all checked in and ready to go and your flight gets delayed, and delayed and delayed until it is canceled.

Here’s a simple list of steps to follow once this happens:

  1. Try the gate agent
  2. Call the airline
  3. Check the board for alternative routes
  4. Find customer service in the terminal
  5. Go to check-in

    Is the line in front of the gate long?

The one or two gate agents just had their stress level go from 17–100. They weren’t planning on dealing with changes and frustration from all of the people affected by a flight change. Unless you’re first in line, let’s move to plan B.

Call the airline

Might was well get the ball rolling on multiple fronts. Call the airline and while you’re waiting in line for a person in-real-life, you can wait for a phone person and double your options for the same effort.

Even better, if you have status with the airline, you’ll get a priority line and might be able to get through faster than lining up with everyone else on your flight.

Check the board for alternative routes

How else can you get back? LAX -> PDX is canceled. Are there other flights? What about LAX -> SEA -> PDX? LAX -> SLC -> PDX?

Arm yourself with information so you can be specific with your asks.

First stop, customer service

Most airlines have a dedicated desk in the terminal to deal with customer changes and issues. These people are expecting you and have dealt with people like you all day.

Look at the line. How fast is it moving? Do some rough math for how long you’re going to be waiting there. More than 15–20 minutes? Consider moving on.

Second stop, back to check in

Most passengers from your flight are probably lining up in front of the gate, or in line at customer service. Find the path of least resistance, grasshopper.

Maybe 5% of people are going to think to go out of security and back to check in. The people at check in are just as capable to help you as the people at customer service in the terminal. They’re also not dealing with angry people all day.

If you get there before the mad rush, you’re likely to be met by someone who hasn’t had their day ruined by other people who default-to-angry when bad things happen during travel.

Politely ask for what you want — whether it’s being routed through a different airport home or the first flight in the morning. Airline employees deal with grumpy travelers all the time. If you can stay calm and polite but be firm, they’ll appreciate it and be more likely to help you.

When life throws you a lemon…

Having a travel issue can quickly go from bad to worse. Things to do ahead of time that can make things easier:

  • Get TSA Pre so that you won’t mind going through security a couple of times if you need to.
  • If you fly a lot, use the same airline. Airline travel is complex, and things will happen that cause issues with flights. Airlines take care of their frequent fliers before others.
  • Be firm and clear with what you want and why, but don’t be a jerk. I hope you never get stuck. If you do these tips might help you creatively solve your problem.