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My Airline Changed My Flight, Now What?

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Don't Panic! Flight changes these days are practically inevitable. I want to share with you some of my tips on how to manage unforeseen changes to your flights just before or even during your trip.

Stock photo of a mushroom cloud explosion
iStock photo

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If you follow Always Pack Tissues regularly, you may have read my planning checklist for six weeks out from departure day. It is during this time that you are buttoning down final details, triple checking your bookings, and making sure you haven't missed anything. Well, this is also the time that your travel itinerary can blow up into a giant mushroom cloud of acid rain all over your perfectly laid plans. DON'T PANIC!

"You can't have an adventure without doing something adventurous" - Dad

Remember this, because this simple catch phrase has been my mantra throughout life and especially through my travels. Let me provide you with a few scenarios, all that I have been through, and how we pivoted. These examples should give you an idea on how best to tackle changes to your schedule.

Example 1: Before your trip

You wake up to an email from your airline - your flight has been changed or cancelled.

It's ok. Breathe. It's OK!! You are not a victim, no one is out to get you, and there's 180 other people who just got the same email. You have some options.

  1. Review the new flight itinerary. If your flight is cancelled, they'll try to rebook you on the next best flight, which sometimes requires you to call the airline. If it is simply changed, the new flight details should be in the email. Be careful to check the details:

    1. Did the departure or return date change?

    2. It is just a simple time change (maybe moved 20 or 30 minutes difference)

    3. Did the departing/returning airport change?

  2. If you like the changes, update your itinerary to match and be happy it wasn't too epic of a change.

  3. If you don't like the changes, you have some options:

    1. Cancel the flight, if they haven't already done so. Read the fine print, but almost always they will provide you a full refund. Note: most credit cards these days offer some kind of travel insurance if your flight gets cancelled. Check with your card company if the airline isn't working with you.

    2. Find a flight you like better than the new one. Call the airline to negotiate the change. Sometimes there are restrictions - you can change destinations if within X amount of miles of the original destination, or maybe you can change the date of arrival, etc. Work with your airline and be kind, this usually gets you what you want faster than yelling. Be sure the new flight doesn't cost you more money. If it does, you decide if this is worthy of your sunk costs (see below).

Sunk Costs:

This is the inevitable loss of roughly $200 per trip on things that didn't work out. Examples include:

  • Missed trains

  • Event tickets that can't be returned

  • Change of plans/flights

  • Bag fees you didn't expect to pay

  • Getting mugged/losing your cash

  • Getting swindled on a taxi ride

  • etc

No matter what, you will lose some money somehow on your trip. Just accept it in advance and move on.

Real world example of pre-trip changes:

My flight from Copenhagen to Barcelona was changed from a direct flight to a flight including a layover, leaving one day later than planned.

How we pivoted:

We cancelled the flight for a full refund. Instead, we booked new flights from Copenhagen to England so we could spend a few days with family friends, connecting later directly to our final destination

What does this gain us?:

  • Our new flights were actually cheaper

  • We fly direct to our final destination, eliminating the need for pricey train tickets

  • We see family friends in England (saving us two nights hotel costs)

What did we lose?:

  • $80 in non-refundable train fares

  • Half a day in Copenhagen

  • Half a day in Spain

  • $15 pre-paid event tickets in Copenhagen

I use this example to illustrate that even though the plan was Copenhagen, Barcelona, Zaragoza, we still managed to get from point A to point B, while having a little extra adventure in between.

Look at your pre-trip flight change as an opportunity to do something different than what you may have thought of in the beginning. Change your mindset from 'this sucks and is a major inconvenience' to 'how can I make this a cooler experience'.

Example 2: At the Airport

This is when you are likely to lose your $h*t. You're at the airport, you dragged your luggage through security, had a crappy pre-flight meal and all you want to do is buckle into your cramped seat and call it a day, but fate has other ideas. Your flight gets delayed, pushed back again, and delayed again. You'll get feedback from the flight crew stating weather delays, crew time delays (they can only be on the clock so long), maybe your plane hasn't arrived yet, etc. It happens. A LOT. Here's some practical advice for you:

1. Don't assume you are getting off the ground that day. Start thinking through alt routes if your flight should get cancelled.

2. Look around the airport - are the other flights around you also getting cancelled or delayed? This could be a bad sign, so start planning Plan B in your head.

3. Don't take any drowsy meds before you actually get on your airplane. I say this to all the nervous fliers popping a Xanax, or maybe the overnight long hauler taking Zzquil to catch a snooze. You'll regret it as your delays bore on.

4. Talk to the gate agent only when you think there is something they can do for you. Otherwise, you are just aggravating yourself getting in a line of other aggravated people. The gate agents only can do so much. In fact, they're working off of old dot matrix paper and really don't have useful tools in many cases to get you the answers you need. Be patient with them.

5. IF your flight is flat out cancelled, you have options:

  1. The airline will rebook you on the next available flight. If not to your liking, call the airline or talk to a booking agent at the front hall of the airport. The gate agents can only do so much. Pro tip: If your flight is cancelled they may hand you a 'call this number' card. Do it. You'll get through in minutes versus the hour and a half we waited by dialing the regular line.

  2. Be prepared to leave the airport unhappy. If you are home, go home. If you are traveling, scramble for a hotel room. The airline may or may not cover the cost. You have to negotiate that with the airline. Note that they will not cover the cost of transportation to get home or to a hotel. Add this to 'sunk costs' as well.

  3. Be prepared to abandon your checked bags. Your bags may be sleeping at the airport tonight. Just another good reason to pack your essentials in your personal carry-on baggage.

6. Lastly, take this as another opportunity. When re-booking your flight, maybe you can get an even better flight, or maybe get to visit a different destination. Getting into a brawl about it at the airport (this seems to happen a lot in Orlando) isn't the way to go. Stay calm and look at it from a different perspective.

Real world example of at the airport changes:

We had flights from Orlando to Miami, then from Miami to Madrid. The layover was about 4 hours, leaving us plenty of time between legs. Little by little, the plane got delayed. All the other American Airlines flights in the surrounding gates were also getting delayed. "All Miami flights are grounded" they told us, over the loudspeaker. We waited for more news. As the wait time increased and our comfortable layover time decreased, we wished we had just gotten in our car to drive to Miami. The 40 minute flight eventually got cancelled, sending us home that night, and we missed our flight to Madrid. After 2.5 hours on the phone at near midnight with the airline, we found a solution. Correction, I found the solution. The airline didn't see the flight that I saw on her search tool, but I was using my handy Google flights knowledge to filter by 'SkyAlliance' airlines (or whatever they call themselves), and I ultimately found a really good flight direct from Orlando to London, connecting to Madrid for the next day. Don't let them tell you you don't have options. Find options on your own and present it to the booking agent.

Example 3: While Already on Your Trip

Bad weather may cause train delays, or airline workers may be on strike. Holidays that you didn't know existed may shut down entire cities, and certain days you won't be able to go to malls or grocery stores. Further consider that different countries have different open and closing hours for their attractions and stores and even seasonal opening times. Try to research this stuff in advance, but a lot of the time you just don't know until you get there. Pivot the best you can by always having some Plan B activities up your sleeve.

Real world example of during the trip changes:

Sometimes plans change on your own fruition. Last time I was in Spain we showed up two days later due to the above cancellation fiasco, so we weren't getting as much time in Spain as we wanted. We were booked to go to Morocco within a few days, but we were all still groggy, jet lagged, and some of us were getting sick. Ultimately, we weren't feeling it and made the decision to literally forego the whole sidebar trip. It was a tough decision, but the right one. We lost about $500 from this decision including airfare for the family, bag fees, and hotel stays. Because it was such a last minute cancellation that we initiated, we couldn't get the flight or hotel money back. BUT! Never fear, there are answers for this too.

  1. Ask for your money back. It doesn't hurt. Because I was booking through, I was able to message the hotel we were meant to stay at and negotiate a 'travel voucher' for a future stay. This is a business transaction between myself and the hotel owner directly, so should I end up in Marrakesh in the next year that the voucher is still applicable, I get a 'free' stay using the money I already put in their pocket.

  2. If you got COVID, you can use this as a pivoting tool - but be prepared to show proof.

  3. Instead of flat out cancelling something, try re-booking and paying the change fees. This may be cheaper than just letting it go.

  4. If someone else is doing the cancelling, apply the above tips from the other sections of this article.

At the end of the day you have to consider just a few things to keep your sanity:

  1. How much money am I willing to swallow as sunk costs?

  2. How much adventure do I want to interject here, or do I have to BE somewhere?

  3. If you have somewhere you have to BE, travel 2 days before you need to be there. Don't be the guy running to catch his cruise ship as it sets sail, or who drives all night so he doesn't miss his brother's wedding. Do yourself a favor and plan ahead, giving yourself plenty of wiggle room.

  4. Finally, be patient. Travel isn't easy on anyone.

Pivot gracefully. You can make lemonade out of any sour lemons. You can have an adventure, but you have to do something adventurous. Godspeed in your travels!

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

Travel More.


Learn More About Me


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