What to do When your Flight is Delayed

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Usually on travel blogs (including my own) you’ll read about all the wonderful, glamorous things. The delicious food, the beautiful views, the fun things to do… but rarely do you read about when things go wrong. I’ll cut straight to it – things do go wrong for me on my travels. A lot.

One subject I haven’t covered yet on World of Wanderlust is what you should do when your flight is delayed or even worse, when you miss your flight.

This topic also allows me to share my top tips for how to avoid missing your flight, especially after my travel plans have been thrown into disarray on a number of occasions thanks to missed connections, weather woes or just simply not leaving enough time between flights. So here we go… how to avoid missing flights and what to do when things go wrong!


Main Reasons Why You Get Delayed (And How to Cope)

Weather – The main cause for flight delays is one that is completely out of your control: weather. Storms, volcano eruptions and all sorts of sporadic occurrences have left so many travellers’ plans up in the air (or quite the opposite if you’ll pardon the pun!)

How to cope: Weather is completely out of your control so its important to first of all stay cool, it will all work out in the end! Try to be flexible as airlines often offer alternative travel plans, like a compensated trip elsewhere or delaying your travel date a couple of days. Although its not ideal, you should always remain calm and remember it will all work out in the end!

Mechanical Issues – The second highest cause for flight delays are those that are the fault of the airline: starting with mechanical issues.

How to deal: Remember it is better to get there safe than to not arrive at all! These kind of issues must be dealt with and are out of your control. Consider booking with airlines who don’t have a bad reputation for delays as the result of mechanical issues (I can think of one airline I won’t fly with in Australia!!!)

Aircraft arriving late – Another airline issue is often caused my close scheduling, or even due to air traffic control being disorganised with arrivals and departures (again, I can think of a great example in Australia!)

How to deal: I have found the budget airlines often have quicker turn arounds and fit more flights within the same day. Naturally this means more delays from them as they’re running on a strict schedule. Thus I prefer to pay a little more and book all of my domestic flights with Virgin Australia as they’re almost always on time.

Luggage not loaded on time – A few years ago I was travelling through Abu Dhabi and my bags were lost in transit by Etihad. This resulted in a missed flight and 24 hour wait overnight for the next flight out to Moscow – not ideal!

How to deal: Try and be positive + always insist your airline hosts you with accommodation, meals and transfers for your layover. This has always been provided to me without fail! On a positive note, its almost like a free mini-holiday in a new destination!


When your Flight is Delayed: 15 Things to Do

Sometimes you just can’t help it and your flight is delayed for hours or even overnight. What to do?

  1. Head to an airport bookstore and buy a magazine or book to dive right in to

  2. Write a blog about your previous trip (if you don’t have a blog, what a great time to start one!)

  3. Shop duty free (or just spray the perfume for free)

  4. Clean out your wallet and handbag

  5. Find a cozy bench to turn into a bed (usually helps to have a thick jacket on hand as a makeshift mattress)

  6. Download the flag app and brush up on your knowledge of flags

  7. People watch and make up stories for stranger’s lives

  8. Go to the destination board and plan an idyllic holiday to an idyllic location (even if its just for pretend)

  9. Walk around for an hour to burn some calories (and make more room for more snacks)

  10. Text someone you haven’t spoken to for a while (its easy to lose touch when you travel)

  11. Carry a phrasebook with you to learn a new language

  12. Delete old photos & files on your phone/laptop to make room for new ones

  13. Find a quiet corner to do some stretches

  14. If you can score free wi-fi, netflix is your new best friend

  15. Make friends with a stranger or two


How to Avoid Delays Costing You Money

And then for the worst part of delays: when they cost you money, even when (most of the time) they’re not your fault and completely out of your control.

To make sure you get what you are entitled to, here are a collection of solutions to avoid delays costing you money:

1. Buy Travel Insurance

I’m a huge advocate of travel insurance and always will be, because I once read (and took as gospel) “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. No truer words have been spoken. With travel insurance you have another back up plan if the airline chooses not to cover your costs for food, accommodation or even new transport when the delay is the fault of the airline.

For delays like missing luggage and aircraft delays, usually this will be covered by the airline (as it has been for me in the past). You should always request accommodation if required to stay overnight, food vouchers if waiting in the airport due to a delay (if it is more than a couple of hours delay), and transport to/from the accommodation if you are required to stay overnight. As a golden rule, the airline usually covers this.

For delays like weather conditions or missed connections, I have always sought compensation from travel insurance when the airline refuses to cover it (usually they won’t cover weather delays unless it is a catastrophic event and they treat it as a PR response that hinders their public image). For example, when I missed my ongoing flight to Australia due to a missed connection and had 3 hours between flights at LAX, the travel insurance covered my accommodation, meals and transport for the connection time until I could get on the next flight. Just be sure to keep all receipts and spend within reason. I have been purchasing a one year multi-trip policy through Southern Cross Travel Insurance for years now and they have always covered my costs.

2. Know your Rights

All of the above points may seem pretty straight forward now that you’re reading them, but it took years of travel for me to learn and know what I was entitled to when things go wrong and they’re not a fault of my own.

It is important to know what you are entitled to so that when things do go wrong, you can make sure the airline or travel insurance policy looks after you. Be sure to take a look at your policy and see what you are covered for when you miss a flight or it is cancelled – this is often the biggest determining factor for me when choosing a travel insurance company as it is the one thing that goes wrong most often!


WOW Readers can get 10% off their travel insurance with the discount code “WOW” when purchasing a policy with Southern Cross Travel Insurance. This is unfortunately limited to Australian readers only! Thanks to SCTI for the kind offer!

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    August 7, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Great tips! Last Sunday I came back to Belgium after having lived in Shanghai for a year. Because 2 out of 3 flights I had to take were delayed, my luggage must have been lost somewhere in China or Europe. And because my entire life basically fits in my luggage, I really hope to hear from the airline company ASAP!

    July 22, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Love the “things to do list”! It was hilarious 🙂

    July 21, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I love to people watch and write what I see. There’s something so therapeutic about it. I also love to meditate or clean out my purse as well. A time to cleanse, relax and embrace the extra time you have.

    Kristen @ Muddle + Joy
    July 16, 2016 at 3:32 am

    This is a fantastic post. I’ve not run into much trouble with flying except for the one time it really counted. Mechanical trouble delayed my flight to Peru, leaving me a day late and stranded without my friends. I had to pay extra money to rebook a local flight, stay a night in a different city by myself, and then navigate my way to a small local province not speaking much of the local language. Definitely an adventure!

    But hey, at least I knew enough to ask for a food voucher at the airport! #knowyourrights

    July 14, 2016 at 7:38 am

    What a helpful list! It’s great to see the not-so-glamorous sides of traveling and being smart & prepared as well!

    July 14, 2016 at 4:30 am

    this is a great post thanks for sharing!

    July 13, 2016 at 12:00 am

    Great tips! It can be a real bummer when a flight gets delayed, particularly at the end of a long period of travel. However, some of my favorite memories come from chilling and exploring airports due to unexpected delays. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing! In fact, I once wrote a blogpost about 27 things to do while stuck in an airport. There is loads to do!

    Rachel Reynolds
    July 12, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    This was SO helpful thank you!

    the adventurer
    July 12, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Great post! During my trip to Europe last month we had some trouble with an airplane having mechanical issues. Calmly we waited in line and we were booked on the next flight home and we ended up getting in an hour earlier than we were suppose to!

    July 12, 2016 at 10:53 am

    This was super helpful, and you listed out way more things than I could ever think of! I used to just hop on my laptop on the free wifi to get some things down, or start reading a book I brought for in-flight entertainment.

    Matilda Grace
    July 12, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Great tips!!! When I was backpacking and had early morning flights I would often sleep at the airport for fear of missing my flight so I now know the airport layout back to front. People-watching is by far the most interesting way to pass time. I play a game of guessing where people are off to – on a grand adventure or simply a business trip.

    July 12, 2016 at 10:16 am

    I have a 3 hour layover coming up and my grandparents insisted on a quick visit during it. I’m excited of course but SO stressed out about delays.
    Hoping everything goes smoothly!

    Three Brits
    July 12, 2016 at 6:23 am

    Great tips here – we will sure be using these on our travels!
    When I went travelling I brought along with me a colouring book and pencils, that was a good time waster.
    I also brought along cross stitch – that made time go super quickly when I had to wait for 10 hours a Charles de Gaulle in Paris!!

    Posh, Broke, & Bored
    July 12, 2016 at 1:22 am

    My recent flight from Milan to London was delayed by nearly 3 hours, and when I finally boarded the plane couldn’t go anywhere for at least an hour because it had to join the queue. I was going to go mad from cabin fever (haha) but the captain was so obliging and invited everyone to take turns in joining him in the cockpit for a chat! I may have overstayed my welcome taking selfies and joking if I could fly the plane (apparently clocking hundreds of hours on video games doesn’t count as ‘experience’)…

    That said, the WORSE is when your flight is overbooked and not only are you bumped but you’re put on an EARLIER flight. Cutting a trip short and going into a mad panic trying to make this early flight is far more stressful than having to wait a few hours to take off! I’ve had that experience last week with EasyJet (from Barcelona to London).

    It’s useful to know that if you’re bumped off a flight European Regulation entitles you from €250 – €600 compensation, a right that not many fliers take up because of the hassle, but believe me, its worth chasing them for it! x

    July 12, 2016 at 1:00 am

    great tips!! love all the snack ideas lol

    Monica @woklikeme
    July 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Solid no-brainers! Thanks for talking about the ugly side of traveling, by the way. Getting there is never as glamorous as it seems, haha!

    July 11, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Great tips!

    Kate |

    July 11, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Such a great post ! Thanks for sharing

    July 11, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    As I was just about to leave to head to the airport for a flight to Dubai last week, I got a text from Qantas that only said “Your flight details have been changed.” and told me to call a phone number. Soon found out that there were mechanical problems with the plane so the departure from Perth would be delayed 7 hours… which would’ve been fine if I didn’t have a connecting flight to Prague! As I only had a few days in Prague, I wasn’t keen on arriving 24 hours after I’d intended to.
    Ended up completely rebooking my flights with Singapore, so I had to fly Per – Sin – Fra – Prague and got there about 8 hours earlier than I would have on the delayed departure from Dubai. Thankfully Qantas is refunding me for the tickets that I didn’t end up with!
    It wasn’t the best of starts to my first solo trip, but once I finally took off from Perth it’s been pretty incredible!

    Liva Lagestrand
    July 11, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Brooke! Love this post, I live in Norway and study outside LA, so this happens a lot for me commuting forth and back. Just wanted to tip you about this (awesome) rule in Europe regarding delayed flights and the rights you have as an passanger. A flight delayed for more than 3 hours will actually obligate the airline to pay you money. Last trip from Norway to California, my trip route was Norway – Denmark, Denmark – Sweden, Sweden – LA. My flight from Norway to Denmark was three hours late, making me loose my flight to Sweden where I was supposed to sleep at the airport, before traveling to LA the morning after, but because of the delay, the airline had to accomodate me at a hotel and with food in Denmark, and I got paid a compensation of almost $700, so the rules are defenitly worth checking! They apply for lost luggage aswell. All the info can be found here, and you can ask for compensations back in time

    July 11, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Great tips, thankyou for sharing, i will keep this post handy


    July 11, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    This is great travel advice. Would like to know the airline you wouldn’t fly with in Australia! But can probably guess! Myself, being from Australia also feel the same way. I know my friends from parts of Asia perhaps are used to different standards when flying, and are not as concerned as I am to jump on flights with Air Asia and Tiger. I know you cannot defame an airline, but this is just a general comment I am posting on here – not trying to spark controversy here and a sweet little travel blog, however I’m the same with the travel insurance quote about and take it even further for my own self….if within Australia if I cannot afford a certain airline…I cannot afford to travel! But I have flown Jetstar many many times within Australia and to parts of Asia & Honolulu. Have been more than happy with their service than Virgin – my personal opinion. But for international, I heard the flight to London is quite good with VB, and India was great with Singapore. But I love QANTAS really.

    Jade Meneguel
    July 11, 2016 at 11:09 am

    this is a great post! Sure will happy a lot of travelers around the world.
    thanks for sharing! 🙂

    July 11, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Connecting flights are always a bit stressful. If you think you’re cutting it close, I’ve found it valuable to let the flight crew know which flight you’re connecting to. They can communicate with the other crew and give them a heads up that you’re on the way. Your connecting flight will sometimes even wait for you (much to the chagrin of the other passengers 😉 )


    July 11, 2016 at 10:32 am

    When you say “contact the airlines”, do you mean thru the check-in counter or by calling an office somewhere – and in which country? Never had to do it, but I have never noticed anywhere at an airport where you can actually buy a ticket for an alternate airline flight.

      July 12, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Airlines usually have a office in the airport, or sometimes they work through an affiliate’s office, where you can get help with delays, reschedules, and even receive vouchers in case you need to eat / spend the night because of the delay / cancellation. If the airline doesn’t have any other flights were they can schedule you in, they will arrange with other airlines and get you to your destination.