12 Things To Do When Your Flight's Canceled or Delayed

iStock.com/vm
iStock.com/vm

Delayed flights are a bummer. After all, the reason you came to the airport is because you wanted to reach your destination faster. But flight delays are unpredictable. Maybe the weather became surprisingly unpleasant, or a mechanical issue arose, or, as in the case of China’s Hangzhou Ziaoshan International Airport in July 2010, a UFO was discovered hovering near the airfield. Here’s what you should do if you’re stranded because of a flight delay or, heaven forbid, a canceled flight.

1. Understand your rights as a passenger if your flight is delayed ...

Fun fact: Legally, you have very few rights. In the United States, at least, few regulations require airlines to provide you with any form of compensation after a delayed flight. Many airlines, however, have what’s called a Contract of Carriage, which describes what you’re entitled to: Potential food vouchers, discounts, refunds, or a hotel stay in the event of a flight delay when the airline is at fault. So read those terms and conditions when you book!

2. ... Especially if you’re flying in Europe.

If you’re flying in Europe—or flying aboard a European airline—passengers have more rights. According to Regulation EC 261/2004, if your flight reaches its destination more than three hours late (or if you were denied boarding because of overbooking) you may have a right to be compensated up to €600, or about $700.

3. If a flight delay or cancellation caused you a big financial loss, you could be compensated for it.

We’ll let the gurus at the great website Airfare Watchdog explain:

“[I]f you can provide evidence of financial loss caused by a delay on an international flight, and prove that the airline could have prevented it by taking 'reasonable measures,' then you may be able to claim further compensation under the Montreal Convention, a treaty that covers most international travel. Under its Article 22, it stipulates a maximum payout of 4150 SDRs (currently $5870).”

(By the way, an SDR, or "Special Drawing Right," is an international unit based on a basket of five currencies: the U.S. dollar, the pound sterling, the Euro, the Japanese yen, and the Chinese renminbi. It's the main unit used by the International Monetary Fund.)

4. Check your connecting flight status immediately.

In most cases, the airline will put you on the next available flight to your destination—but it may not alert you to that fact. Call or check customer service immediately to get an update on your status. In some instances, the airline might have automatically rebooked you on a completely different route to your destination. (In the case of one Mental Floss editor, a delayed flight from Chicago to New York transformed into a multi-segment marathon from Chicago to Grand Rapids to Dallas to New York.)

5. Make some calls as soon as your flight is delayed or canceled.

If you rented a car, let the agency at your destination know about your delayed flight status. If you think the flight delay might last into the night (or will become a canceled flight at some point) and the airline doesn't seem to be budging on handing out those hotel perks, it may also be worth booking a hotel yourself just in case. Most hotels don’t charge until you check in, so—pending the accommodation’s cancellation policy—there might be nothing to lose if the airline manages to pull through.

6. Do some research on chronically delayed flights.

Now that you have some extra time on your hands, why not check up on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Travel Consumer Report? It supplies a monthly rundown of the cause of every flight delay experienced by each carrier. Similarly, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics maintains a list tracking the causes of delays as well as list of “chronically delayed flights.” It can’t save you this time, but it might help you pick a better flight next time.

7. Wait before you begin making complaints ...

If your flight hasn’t been delayed for at least three hours, you really shouldn’t expect any vouchers or sympathy. At that point, complaining about a delay is a waste of everybody’s time. If you bought travel insurance, your policy will likely kick in about four hours after the delay. Depending on the policy you purchased and the provider, you should call the insurance company when hour four hits to see what you may be entitled to.

8. ... But try not to fall asleep.

In some cases, an airline may tell passengers that the flight delay will last three hours, only to suddenly announce over the P.A. system that they’ll be boarding soon. A flight can be “undelayed” and you should be prepared if that happens. So if you plan on taking a nap, find a buddy to wake you up just in case. (In a similar vein: If a flight is delayed before you reach the airport, you cannot arrive late to check in. You need to show up as if the plane were leaving on time.)

9. Read the fine print on your credit card—it might cover flight delays.

Many credit cards come with travel protection benefits in the event of a delay; some will even reimburse you if your flight is delayed a certain amount of time (if you booked your ticket with that card). So get familiar with your credit card perks and see if you’re eligible.

10. Take a hike.

Airports are great places to go people watching and, of course, plane-spotting. They’re also not a bad place to exercise. (And, let’s admit it—you might need to blow off some steam.) Multiple airports now have gyms and free yoga studios. Phoenix Sky Harbor boasts a “Walk The Sky Harbor Fitness Trail” [PDF].

11. Check the attractions at the airport.

During the winter, Denver International has an outdoor ice-skating rink that’s free to use (even skate rentals are free). Seattle-Tacoma International displays more than 60 works of art and offers a self-guided walking tour. At Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the world-renowned Rijksmuseum has set up exhibits showing Dutch masterpieces. And at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, Terminal 3 boasts a four-story slide.

12. Cuddle an animal.

You’re stressed. You’re anxious. You’re angry. But what if we told you that at San Francisco International Airport there’s a therapy pig named Lilou who struts around (in costume!) and would love to cuddle with you? Or what if we told you that LAX has a program called PUP—for the “Pets Unstressing Program”—that provides free snuggles from therapy dogs? See, getting stranded in an airport thanks to a delayed flight isn’t so bad.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Apple

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Sony

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Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

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Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

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Jashen

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Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

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Gourmia

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8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

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FenSens

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Noerden

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

Just How Clean Is the Air On an Airplane?

Air quality in airplane cabins has become a growing concern during the coronavirus pandemic.
Air quality in airplane cabins has become a growing concern during the coronavirus pandemic.
Leylanr/iStock via Getty Images

For millions of Americans and millions more abroad, the excitement of booking a flight has turned into concern. Being stuffed into an airplane cabin with hundreds of other people for hours at a time seems like a risk in light of the coronavirus continuing to be a threat to public health.

According to experts, plane travel is indeed a risk, and much of that risk has to do with social proximity. But the air itself might be cleaner than you think.

In a piece for Condé Nast Traveler, author William J. McGee writes that many airplanes have highly effective air cleaning systems that use high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filtration to remove 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants, including viruses. (But not all. Some regional airlines may not have HEPA devices.) The clean air is pumped in through the ceiling and leaves below the window seats. The air is roughly 60 percent fresh and 40 percent filtered and recirculated constantly.

Would this impact how coronavirus or other germs may spread? Theoretically, yes. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health organizations caution that no air filtration system can make up for being seated within a few feet of an infected person. It’s entirely possible that their germs will make their way to you before the circulating air removes them. And filtration isn’t a factor when travelers are standing near each other in line to board the aircraft.

Viruses aren’t the only air quality concern onboard a plane. Fumes from engine oil, hydraulic fluid, exhaust, and other sources can travel into the cabin. Pesticide applications may also leave a lingering odor.

The bottom line? If you have to be stuck in an enclosed space with several strangers, an airplane cabin might be the safest way to go about it. But variables like infected passengers, mask habits, and proximity make it impossible for anyone to offer assurances about safety. If you have a desire or need to fly, wearing a mask and keeping as much distance as possible between yourself and other passengers is the best way to approach it.

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