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I'm Stuck at the Airport: What to Do When Your Flight is Cancelled, Delayed or Rebooked

Updated: May 17

I've seen more cancellations, changes and delays than I'd like to have endured, but there's only so much you can do. Bad weather, empty flights, over full flights and dozens of other things lend to these situations and a lot of times it is out of our control.

Here I will share some tips on what you can do when an airline changes or rebooks your flight before your flight date, and what to do when disaster unravels your plans at the airport on travel day.

Canadian airport signs in a terminal

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Are You Stuck at the Airport Now? Need Help and Don't Have Time to Read All This?

Here's some helpful links!

My flight was cancelled and I need a hotel ASAP:

I need to make calls but I'm traveling internationally and don't have a cell plan set up yet.

There's no way I'm flying out tonight, I need a bus ticket.

What about trains? Are there any trains that can get me to my destination quickly?

Search Omio now, below. Hint: Omio also offers bus information!

I'm delayed. Is there a Priority Pass Lounge I can hang out at?

How To Respond To Delays, or Missed and Cancelled Flights At the Airport

  • Be cool

  • Be calm

  • Be nice

  • Be helpful

Offer solutions

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

Get on your phone, pull up 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. Or, in the case of a missed flight to Spain, 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

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. You likely aren't the only one staying put in the airport hotel that night.

Don't assume your sob story will get you anywhere. The airline staff are not magicians. If everyone is stuck at the airport, it doesn't matter if you have a wedding to get to or a cruise ship leaving without you.

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

They are people, not wizards. They have places to be, people to get home to, and tough lives just like the rest of us. 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.

And on that note, 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.

Get on the phone with the airline.

In one situation I knew we were going to miss our connecting flight to Europe, due to the airline delays. 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.

Remember that 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.

Look up potential hotels.

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.

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 flight search tool at your fingertips and be ready with options.

Be flexible

Don't be hardheaded about your plans. You have to remain flexible. One time we had an opportunity to grab our bags in Montreal but we would have had to spend another several hours waiting for them.

Instead, we chose to leave them behind and survive the night without our stuff. Turns out we ended up leaving that stuff behind for over a week of our vacation and we had to buy a whole new wardrobe. But...the reimbursements were worth it after hours of headaches with the airline.

On that:

Consider where your bags are going

  • Be prepared to leave something behind.

Always keep your bag tag receipts.
  • Without these you’ll have a really hard time finding your luggage if it gets lost.

  • Always pack cosmetics and one change of clothes (or a tide sink packet) in your carry on or personal bag.

  • Never pack valuables in your checked bag

  • Consult my list of must-haves for your personal bag on an International flight, this will save the day in many cases

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 can be accommodated with trip extensions. After one flight disaster, 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've been down to Cheerio’s and animal crackers and we were all starving, having expected to eat on the airplane. Bring substantial snacks along.

If you are in the terminal and a lounge is available, consider paying for Priority Pass Lounge Access. It will provide a relaxing space (at least more relaxing than the chaotic terminal) and you can load up on snacks and drinks while you wait for your next flight.

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 when our last great disaster broke out. 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.

Options When There is a Flight Schedule Change In Advance of Your Travel Date

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

You have some options.

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?

If you like the changes, accept them manually

Accept the change (look for the terms, sometimes you have to manually accept by clicking a button or accepting in the email).

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

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.

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.

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 the Canada day 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 of travel 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

1 Comment

Jul 04, 2023

Well said. The airline employees are just as upset as you are. They don't need to be yelled at. Cool, calm and collected is the way to go.


Hi, I'm Maria!

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