Flight cancellations: what to do if your plane is cancelled or delayed

Gatwick Airport (Stephen Jones/PA) (PA Archive)
Gatwick Airport (Stephen Jones/PA) (PA Archive)

We all like to think it’ll never happen to us. Until it does. More than 680 flights are cancelled every day.

So, while you shouldn’t overthink it or worry too much about that possibility, it makes sense to be prepared beforehand. Here are a few tips.

What to do as soon as you find out

When a flight is cancelled, airlines will let you know via email, text, or app notification.

If you’re still at home, look at what options they’ve given you. Some airlines might automatically book you onto a different flight. Don’t delay in managing your booking online, or better yet, call the company immediately.

Already at the airport? That will be unavoidably frustrating, but regroup and head to the airline’s help desk as soon as you find out. If there’s a long queue (which is likely), call the airline while you wait: you might get through before you reach the desk.

You might get a faster reply if you call one of the airline’s international numbers. But if you bought your flight through a third party, you might have to deal with them instead. It’s important to check third party policies before you dive in. They might be cheaper for a reason.

What are your most likely options with a new flight?

  • You’ll be offered a different one for free, which may or may not be on the same day

  • Most airlines have interline agreements, so they might be able to put you on another carrier’s service

  • You can buy a different ticket yourself and ask for a refund later on

  • If the cancellation was due to a technical problem rather than the weather, some airlines mightagree to put you in a hotel or give you a voucher. It’s always, always worth checking.

Claiming compensation

Don’t settle for a voucher. If you choose not to accept the new flight offered by the airline, you’re probably still entitled to compensation, because your work or holiday has been disrupted.

You can find more information on the Citizens Advice website, but I recommend referring to that of your specific airline. That way, you can find out exactly how to claim it with them. If you need to buy food and essentials in the meantime, keep all receipts: you might manage to get that money back, too.

You also want to check your credit card perks as some of them include travel protection and reimbursement, from hotels to meals. If not, you’ve got travel insurance… don’t you?

Reducing your chances of flight cancellations

Of course, you can never predict them or avoid them altogether. You can, however, lower your chances by flying directly whenever possible (yes, even if it costs a little more) or allowing longer layovers.

Mid-week mornings tend to be the safest time. In fact, cancellations are a lot more likely on Friday afternoons and evenings in general (think of all those roll-on delays).

How to be better prepared next time

  • Familiarise yourself with your airline’s cancellation policy beforeflying

  • Download your airline’s app as that way you’ll be the first to know. If you’re a frequent flyer, it might also be worth using flight tracking apps like Flightradar24 or FlightAware

  • Make sure your phone is fully charged when you head to the airport. Even better, carry a portable charger, and keep your essentials with you rather than in your checked luggage

  • Always, always say yes to travel insurance