Why Do Flights Get Canceled?
Most flights are canceled due to weather conditions either in your departure or destination location. Other common reasons include equipment problems with a plane, or a plane not arriving due to weather or equipment issues earlier in the day. When there are a lot of delays, you may find your flight canceled because the crew has hit their maximum work hours for the day. This is most likely when you’re flying out of a small airport and no substitute crew can be found. Computer glitches occasionally cause system-wide problems that result in flight cancelations. Strikes can cause flight delays, but these are rare. Rarer still are flight cancelations caused by security issues.
What To Do if a Flight is Canceled
First, get rebooked. Airlines will do this for you, and if they can’t accommodate you on one of their flights, they can transfer you to another carrier—but you may have to ask them to do it. Gate agents or departure desk agents can do the rebooking, but you’ll probably spend less time waiting if instead of working with airline staff at the airport, you call the airline. Be sure that all connecting flights also get rebooked.
If you’re trying to rebook an evening flight, chances are good you’ll have to wait until the morning. This is mildly annoying if you’re still at home, but horrible if you’re trying to return to your home city. While you’re getting rebooked, ask about getting a hotel voucher or other compensation for having to spend the night. Airlines are not required to help out with costs due to a canceled flight, but some do offer vouchers on a first come, first serve basis.
If bad weather has snarled airport traffic for hours, you might want to look for a hotel room first—especially if you’re waiting in a line at the airport. Be prepared to call a lot of hotels; they’ll fill up fast. The alternative is to spend the night in the airport, and that is something no one wants to do.
Before leaving the airport, be sure to check-in for your new flight and get updated boarding passes, more importantly so if you call the airline rather than going through the airport staff. If you do use the gate or ticketing agent, they usually check you in and print your boarding passes, but be sure to check for them. It will save time and hassle in the morning.
Most travelers these days don’t check luggage, but if you did check a bag, ask about it. If you’re flying a budget airline that charges for checked bags, make sure that there aren’t surprise fees for getting your baggage re-checked on the new flight.
If you’re on the outward leg of your trip, call your hotel if you have prepaid reservations and a check-in deadline. Work with them to adjust your reservation. If you don’t, you might get to your hotel and find they’ve canceled your reservation.
What if I Choose to Cancel My Plans?
Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to rebook a canceled flight, perhaps if you were leaving on a 1- or 2-day affair. In these cases the airline will either reimburse you, even if the ticket was non-refundable, or issue a voucher instead of a refund. If you’re offered a voucher, get the complete details: Are there restrictions? Are their blackout dates? Is there an expiration date? In almost all cases, if you have a choice, get the refund.
Will I be Compensated for My Canceled Flight?
For the most part, US airlines are not required to do more than rebook you. They are not required to reimburse you for prepaid hotel nights, concert or event tickets, missed cruise departures, and other expenses. Your best bet is to schedule flights so that a cancelation won’t impact your schedule.
One Final Tip for Flight Cancelations
It may be difficult, but try to stay calm and collected, especially in the case of weather cancelations. Weather, after all, is no one’s fault. If nothing else, remember that you’ll get better service from your airline’s ticket and gate agents if you don’t yell at them.