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How You Can Salvage Your Trip When Flight Delays and Cancellations Happen

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

What to do when disaster unravels your plans.

Canadian airport signs in a terminal

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Canada Day Chaos: My Nightmare Story


If you’ve read my articles in the past, you could probably gather I’ve seen my fair share of chaos in the airport and in travel. It’s inevitable. I’ve talked about sunk costs, anticipation of bad times, and the inevitability of some disruption to your travels, but I’ve never witnessed what I experienced in Canada this past July 4th weekend.


Delays in my departure city were few, but my inbound flight met security issues, followed by bag count discrepancies before we could even take off. With a shrinking connection time to our overseas destination, we arrived in Montreal to a 30 minute window to connect. The thirty minutes would have us deplaning, getting our stroller at gate check, a mad dash through the terminal, on through customs, and somehow to our gate in time for departure before the gates closed. Fat chance.


As thirty minutes gave us a sliver of promise, then we idled on the tarmac. A problem at our gate had us finding another gate. Once found, there was a broke down truck in our spot, which we needed to wait for the repairs before we could pull to the gate. The captain came on to say “I guess it’s one of those days”.


They had no idea.


Airport display of flight times with destinations

After the mad dash, abandonment of our gate checked stroller, and a customs agent scanning our passes to say “your plane is gone”, we kept our cool. The story continues on, the lines that night were unbearable to find our bags (which hadn’t turned up), the line to get my room key at the in-terminal Marriott was 30 people deep, and the airline had run out of vouchers to give out for food and lodging - simply because the hotels were already at capacity full of displaced travelers.


After spending 24 hours in the Montreal airport, we met some struggles getting re-booked (all they could give us was stand by), and then in came the storm again. Literally. Un-seasonal rains tormented our flight plans, causing havoc at the Montreal airport. Gates were swapped and piggybacked, with as many as three departing flights all going out of them same gate with similar departure times. 900 people waited in angst in a waiting area meant to house a third of those people. Delays piled on (and on) and finally we were making our way, about four hours behind schedule (or 30 hours if you want to look at it that way...).


All in all, if I could try and quickly sum this awful adventure, we managed to get to our destination unscathed, with one bag missing, which wouldn't turn up for another week. With a five hour drive ahead of us to our final destination, we finally arrived more than two days after we had started our adventure.


With our wits still relatively in tact, we managed to have an ok outcome, but it’s because we exercised some important precautions and zen-like composure to get through it all.


Here’s what I recommend should something like this ever happen to you:



How To Respond To Missed and Cancelled Flights


  • Be cool

  • Be calm

  • Be nice

  • Be helpful


Offer solutions

Get on your phone, pull up google.com/flights and figure out options. Don’t box yourself into your final destination. We say things like “just get us to Europe” and we’ll take it from there.


Be flexible

Get in the car if you have to. We offered to drive to Toronto if that were to help. Or get us to Paris or London and we’d get to Spain some other way (Ryan Air and Vueling are always good cheap options), or the numerous trains in Europe.


Your sob story is irrelevant

This one gets my goat - everyone had a sob story to tell that night, hoping that would change the outcome of the fully booked, over sold, missed and cancelled flights. As if their story could make the airline staff conjure up a flight just for them.


We heard it all - missed cruises departures, missed best friends’ wedding, and even one pair of a-holes who were departing that night for their own wedding in Rome, which was to occur the following day.


Build a Buffer Day

Which leads me to…always build a buffer day into your plans. Give yourself a break day, for any unknowns. It also helps you to get over jet lag before jumping into your fun plans.


Think of the staff

The staff was treated like garbage from every which way in this fiasco. It’s important to recognize that they aren’t wizards, they are workers. One woman who helped us was there well into the evening when she had a young child at home waiting for her. Others were verbally accosting these people. Remember that being nice goes a lot further than being nasty.


At the first sign of trouble come up with a plan B, C and D in your head.


Don’t expect that things will work out.

Start thinking - ok, what are my options? If I don’t make my flight, where will I sleep? How will I eventually get to where I’m headed?


Take an active role in trying to fix the situation. Don't just let things happen to you. Be proactive.


Get on the phone with the airline.

As we were idled on the tarmac I instantly took to my cell phone and dialed up the customer support line. It’s something, and certainly help keeping calm while others were literally rushing to the front to get off the plane even though we were still on the active taxi way.


Look up potential hotels.

Good thing I did, because all the area hotels sold out. Be ahead of things.


Look up potential new routes.

Again, be prepared with solutions for when you get someone on the phone or when you get to talk to a gate agent.


Have a widget like the one below at ready on your phone (this one is powered through WayAway), but you can also use Google Flights, Expedia, and so on.

Having this at your fingertips is very useful in a bind.



Be flexible

Don't be hardheaded about your plans. You have to remain flexible. We had an opportunity to grab our bags in Montreal but we would have had to spend another several hours waiting for them. We chose to leave them be and survive the night without our stuff.


Consider where your bags are going


Know your rights

Keep receipts for anything you need to purchase in the event of this disaster. You are often eligible for cash reimbursements on not only delayed or lost luggage (and the reimbursements for contents purchased as replacements), but also for the delay itself.


Be sure to ask the airline for the policy documents on this. In some cases, reimbursement eligibility depends on the length of time you are displaced/delayed on the ground and for the reasoning, so be aware of the announcements being made.


In other instances, long delays like we had can be accommodated with trip extensions. The airline offered us two days extension at no added charge, but we finagled a four day extension at 35 euros per person.


Needless to say, we spent a lot of time at the start of our trip on the phone with the airline and filling out forms. Having your laptop with you will be helpful.


Bring snacks

You may be in a situation where you can't eat for a long time. We were down to Cheerio’s and animal crackers and we were all starving, having expected to eat on the airplane. Bring substantial snacks along.


Keep kids happy

If you flip out they will flip out doubly! If your kids are wreaking havoc, it just instantly escalates and already garbage situation. Keep the kids calm by being calm yourself.


Be aware of International Holidays

Surprise! Not only were we traveling on July 4th weekend, but it was also Canada Day. Everything is closed on Canada day. Even Walmart and Starbucks! They treat the holiday like Christmas in Quebec, so expect that if you are grounded you may have a hard time finding supplies, cosmetics or new clothes on International Holidays. Thankfully, we found that grocery stores are open.


Last Word

I’d love to say “Don’t let this happen to you”, but it truly is unavoidable sometimes. The best advice I can give is:


Be Calm

Be Prepared

Be Flexible


Remember that sometimes when things don't work out, they end up working out in other ways. We got a brand new wardrobe out of this fiasco (dang if I had known we'd get reimbursed I wouldn't have just bought discount merchandise!) and we got an extra four days tacked onto our trip.


It's not always blue skies and sunshine, and the reality is that it can be a tough journey. Just keep cool and try to make the best of a bad situation. Good luck everyone!



1 comment

Hi, I'm Maria!

Globetrotting since 1995, I'm not a blogging nomad or a social influencer.

I'm a traveler. I'm a storyteller.

And I'm here to inspire you to

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