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Flight Delayed or Canceled Due to Bad Weather? | Do This

March 5, 2024

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Few things can disrupt travel plans as effectively as a delayed or canceled flight. And when severe weather is the cause, you're not certain when your plane will be able to take off, if at all.

Stuck at the airport and unsure about your future, you can quickly become frustrated. How well I know!

An ice storm in Lubbock, Texas, had me waiting over 7 hours for my flight. Another time, Malcolm and I missed our business class upgrade to Istanbul when a storm in Chicago grounded us for so long that we missed our connection. And just last year, we spent two days and a night stuck in Auckland due to a severe weather event.

And those are just the travel delays that come to mind at the moment!

Airplane delayed by bad weatherIt turns out we’re not alone. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that the largest cause of air traffic delay is the weather (75.48%). They list the airports with the worst weather delays as Newark, LaGuardia, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle, in that order.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2023, 140,517 flights originating in the United States (nearly 26%) experienced delays due to weather, with the worst months being July-September, just when we all want to hit the road for summer. 🏖️

While airlines strive to minimize disruptions, storms, fog, and high winds can mess with the air travel schedule and ground planes. After all, it’s much more important to stay safe than to get someplace on time.

Yes, it’s frustrating to be stuck at the airport because of severe weather conditions. But staying calm and taking proactive steps can make all the difference in helping you manage the situation effectively.

 Why Are Flights Delayed or Canceled Due to Weather?

Light rain or fog isn’t a problem for airplanes, but heavy rain or fog can reduce visibility enough that it’s not safe to take off or land. And runways can become flooded, causing airplanes to hydroplane.

Thunderstorms also make it difficult for airplanes to take off and land properly, especially if they're caught in a cross-wind. Let’s not even mention lightning and turbulence, right? And extreme weather like hurricanes and tornados? 🌪️ No thank you!

So when your flight is delayed or canceled due to weather, air traffic control and your airline are just trying to keep you safe. And that’s what you want too, right?

Here’s What to Do When Your Flight is Delayed or Canceled Due to Weather

Breathe and regroup

Feeling disappointed when your departure is delayed is normal, but getting angry won't solve anything. And it certainly won’t help if you’re cranky with the gate agent or customer service rep trying to help you. Take a few deep breaths and regroup.

Gather Information

  • Check with your airline
    When there is a delay or cancellation, the first thing to do is to check your airline’s website or mobile app.

The airline usually provides real-time updates on flight delays and cancellations, and you can look at the other flight schedules. Sometimes, you can even rebook a different flight right in the app.

I was already once seated on the plane when the announcement was made that we would have to wait for a weather event to pass by. I checked my airline's app and saw that the flight had just been canceled.

I immediately called the airline and rebooked myself right there on the plane. I had a new flight even before the pilot announced the cancellation.

The moral of the story is to act quickly! There is a whole planeload of people who need their travel plans changed, and you want to be one of the first to rebook an alternative flight.

  • Monitor flight-tracking services
    FlightAware and similar websites and apps provide real-time flight information, including delays and canceled flights and the reason for them.
  • Follow social media
    Airlines often use Facebook and X/Twitter to share information about flight disruptions and delays. I’ve had great luck using X to get quick responses to questions about long delays.

Explore your options

If your flight is canceled or if the delay will cause you to miss a connection, the good news is that the airline might automatically rebook you on a new flight. So check your app.

If you're not rebooked, or if the rebooking doesn't work for you (like you'll miss your cruise), then visit the gate agent or customer service desk ASAP.

Line of people waiting to rebook after delayed flight due to weather.You may find a long line, so get your flight number and confirmation number ready and call your airline while you wait. You may be able to get through to them before you can make your way to the front of the line.

Have alternative times and routes ready if you’ve plotted another course, but be open to the solution the agent may find for you. It might be a better fit.

Depending on your ticket type, your airline might rebook you on a partner airline flying to your destination. If your schedule allows, you might be able to change your entire itinerary.

Note: If you booked through Expedia, Booking, or another third-party, you may need to deal with them directly if the flight has been cancelled. So book directly with the airline unless you’re saving a considerable amount with a third party.

Expert advice

If the U.S. customer service number is experiencing long wait times, call the international number instead. You’ll likely get through more quickly, and the call center agent there will be able to handle your request.

Put both these numbers in your phone before you leave home.

Be patient and courteous

Remember, weather delays and cancellations aren't easy for airline staff, and they're under immense pressure trying to reschedule an entire plane.

Treat them with respect and patience. A kind word or a smile can go a long way.

Who would you rather help? Someone who is frustrated, yelling at you, and demanding a certain outcome? Or someone who is smiling and understanding (yet firm in their needs)? 😇

Be the second person, and you’ll likely get better service.

Communication is key

As soon as you know what’s happening, contact your friends and family and inform them about the delay. Let them know you're safe and will update them as soon as you have more information. This keeps them from being worried and also ensures they're aware of your new arrival time.

If your delay extends beyond a few hours, contact your accommodation to let them know your revised arrival time, especially if early check-in fees are involved or if you have to arrive by a certain time to be assured of a room.

And if you think you won’t be able to get out until the next morning, find a hotel ASAP!

To demonstrate the importance of acting quickly...

We were at the Auckland Airport when one of those weird (and frightening) atmospheric rivers descended.

The airline delayed our fight, then delayed it a second time. Based on looking at the weather report and the amount of rain coming down at the airport, I figured that we weren't going anywhere that day, so I immediately got on the phone and found a hotel.

Guess what? By the time they closed the airport (because the terminal was flooded), hundreds of people had to stay overnight at the airport because all the hotels were booked and the roads were closed.

Embrace the unexpected

I suggest you reframe a delayed or canceled flight as an opportunity. Sit and read a good book, work on your laptop, or strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. You'll be surprised by the interesting people you meet and the stories you share when an unexpected event like this happens.

Know your passenger rights

U.S. airlines aren't obligated to compensate you for weather-related delays or cancellations. Because the weather is out of their control, they don’t have to pay for food or hotels while you wait. But you can always ask, especially if there is an extraordinary circumstance.

Passenger discussing options with airline agentAirlines have their own policies and each decides on a case-by-case basis, However, if you’re an elite member of their frequent flyer program and you're flying business or first class, your chances to receive help are more likely than if you bought an economy ticket from a third party.

If the delay is for circumstances that are within the airline’s control—like mechanical issues, for example—you may be eligible for flight delay compensation, which includes things like meal vouchers, hotel stays, ground transportation, etc.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has a handy delay and cancellation dashboard that can help you better understand what you might be entitled to in these circumstances.

Should your flight be canceled or if there's a significant change or significant delays and you decide to cancel your travel plans, the DOT website says that you can get a full refund of your ticket price, regardless of the reason for the delay unless, of course, you have purchased a non-refundable ticket. Just beware that DOT decides what "significant" is.

Of course, regulations may be different in the European Union and other countries.

Prioritize your wellbeing

Delays can be stressful, so take care of yourself physically and mentally.

Stretch your legs by taking short walks around the terminal, practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, and don't forget to stay hydrated.

If you have access to an airline lounge, take advantage of it. If you're not a member, you may be able to buy a day pass if the lounge has space available.

If you have any medical concerns, speak to the gate agent and explain your particular circumstances. They’ll be able to let you know what to do.

And stay positive. While delays can be frustrating, remember that bad weather is beyond anyone's control. Maintaining a positive attitude can help you manage the situation effectively and avoid unnecessary stress.

Before You Leave for the Airport

Being prepared for flight delays and cancellations starts before you travel.

  • Know your airport
    For example, does fog frequently disrupt morning flights during the summer? Book later in the morning. Does heavy snowfall close your small, hometown departure airport? Plan to fly out of one of the major airports.
  • Purchase travel insurance
    Consider purchasing travel insurance before your trip. It can provide financial protection in case of flight delays or cancellations, including reimbursement for unexpected expenses like meals or an overnight stay in a hotel. Be sure to keep your receipts so you can submit them to claim compensation.
  • Pack smart for a long delay or cancellation
    Bring a water bottle, healthy snacks, a change of clothes, and a portable charger in your carry-on luggage. Also, pack a book, a deck of cards, a laptop or tablet, knitting, a travel journal, etc., for entertainment.You'll be better equipped to handle these annoying situations and maintain a sense of peace and comfort when you're prepared for a wait.
  • Check your credit card
    Look at the travel protections offered by the credit card you booked your trip with. Some cards provide trip delay insurance that covers weather-related delays.
  • Check the weather forecasts
    Check the weather for your departure location and final destination, as well as any locations where you’ll be connecting. This way, you’ll be able to anticipate the possibility of a weather-related event. It’s better to be comfy in your home or hotel room while you sort out travel changes than to do so at the airport.
  • Check Your Airline’s App
    And then there was that morning when Malcolm dropped me off for a 5:15 AM flight. I waited and waited and waited. No plane.

That’s because it had been canceled due to adverse weather conditions at my destination, but I hadn’t checked before I went to the airport.

I had the sound turned off on my phone, so I didn't know American Airlines had been sending me text messages. Silly girl!

So check your app before you leave the house and sign up for text notifications so you can learn if there are any flight cancellations.

 Conclusion

Flight delays and cancellations due to adverse weather are all part of the grand adventure called travel.

Yes, it’s frustrating, and while it might feel good to have a meltdown right there in the terminal, it won’t change the outcome.

Remember, your flight isn't delayed without good reason. We all want to stay safe. You just need to get to work to put things back on track.

Take a breath, then gather information from airline apps, flight trackers, and social media. How long will the delay be? Will it affect a connection? What other routes are available?

Get to the airline counter as quickly as possible (with a smile on your face) and try to contact your airline directly while you’re waiting in line, as that may be quicker. Explore rebooking options and be nice to the airline staff—they’re doing their best to untangle the mess.

Preparation is the key! Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before you leave home. Should the flight be delayed or canceled after you’ve left, travel insurance, snacks, and entertainment in your carry-on can save the day.

Stay calm, stay informed, and just turn this incident into an unexpected adventure. (Bonus! Travel mishaps like this make for a good story.)

Thanks for reading! If you'd like more tips to make traveling in the second half of life easy-peasy, sign up for Coffee & Compass, a weekly newsletter filled with tips from me and others in the know.

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