How To Best Deal With Airline Delays

If you’re a frequent flyer, chances are you know that sinking feeling all too well – the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as soon as the captain announces that your flight will be delayed. You slump back in your seat and try to will away the stress headache you feel coming on, as your mind tries to sort out how the rest of your journey is about to unfold. Will you make your connecting flight? Will your baggage go off on its own vacation without you? Did you pack enough on your carry on to get you through a possible overnight delay, and do you need to make arrangements with anyone who may have been meeting you at your destination?

The domino effect of potential disasters start to spread out before you, and the worst part is there is truly nothing you can do about it but wait politely and patiently. So how did we get to be in this situation in the first place? What causes the majority of airline delays experienced every day, by all types of travellers all around the globe? Is there anything we can do to prevent these delays from happening, and what can we do once we find ourselves in these predicaments?


Let’s begin from the ground up.

Since June of 2003, the United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics have been collecting data submissions from airlines that report on-time data about the causes of airline delays and cancellations of flights. These reported causes of delay are currently available from June 2003 up to the most recent month.

There are five categories the Bureau of Transportation tracks, so any airline delays reported will be categorized as being:


  • Late arriving aircraft: A previous flight using the same aircraft arrived later than scheduled, causing the following flight to depart late.
  • Air Carrier: Maintenance issues, crew problems, aircraft cleaning or de-icing (removal of snow or ice from plane,) baggage loading, fueling, etc. These causes of cancellation or airline delay were due to circumstances within the airline’s control.
  • National Aviation System (NAS): These delays and cancellations attributed to the national aviation system fall under a broad set of conditions, such as non-extreme weather conditions, airport operations, air traffic control and heavy air traffic volume.
  • Security: These airline delays or flight cancellations are caused by inoperative screening equipment and/or
    Extreme weather delays - Deicing Plane

    Extreme weather delays – Deicing Plane

    long lines in excess of 29 minutes at screening areas, evacuation of a terminal or concourse, or re-boarding of the aircraft because of security breach.

  • Extreme Weather: Extreme weather delays are a judgement call of the carrier when significant meteorological conditions (actual or forecasted) such as a tornado, blizzard or hurricane pose a threat to safety and delays or prevents the operation of a flight.

We all know airline delays can be extremely frustrating, and can throw off your entire trip. They can throw a monkey wrench into business meetings, sabotage holidays, and the ripple effect of this common annoyance affects friends, family, colleagues, and basically anyone who counted on you being where you were supposed to be! You have no control over this stressful spot you’ve found yourself in, and it can feel extremely unjust. It’s no wonder this hindrance has a history of making otherwise patient people pop their top!

The truth is, traveling by plane can be a stressful experience for many people even when all goes according to plan. That stress is magnified tenfold when unexpected delays and cancellations occur due to any of the aforementioned weather, mechanical or security reasons beyond your control. This is truly the reality of air travel, and by remembering to keep yourself calm, flexible and patient, you can avoid making a bad situation worse.


What to do before you leave home:

Monitor the weather conditions. If weather looks like trouble, flights into or out of the airport will most certainly be affected by it. Storms, ice and snow, and heavy wind and rain are known to cause airline delays. Extreme weather such as ice storms, hurricanes or tornado activity can cause flights to be cancelled altogether.

It’s important to note that natural disasters such as an erupting volcano anywhere along your flight path will certainly cause delays or cancellations, as an airplane cannot travel safely through the volcanic ash in the air. A delay such as this can throw off flights for days or even weeks at a time!

Confirm the status of your flight before traveling to the airport. These days the internet has become a useful tool for checking the status of flights. You can also call the airline to find out if there have been any delays or cancellations. If you find that there has been an airline delay posted on the airline’s website, contact the airline by phone immediately to find out what arrangements can be made.

Always bring a well-packed carry on. Always make it a personal rule to have one night/day’s worth of clothing and personal items in your carry on bag, even if you are making a short flight and don’t think you will need it. You never know what kind of circumstances will unfold or where your plane might be re-routed to or for how long an airline delay might last. Pack a light change of clothing, toothbrush, and any medication you might need. You don’t want to be stranded in Philadelphia for twenty-eight hours with nothing but a decorative set of wind chimes you bought at the duty-free in Dallas.

Ensure you are prepared for your flight. Aside from making sure you have your tickets, money, carry on, and passport handy, double check your belongings for anything that might cause an issue in security. Are your liquids in the acceptable sized containers and sealed inside plastic bags to prevent leaking? Is there a pocket knife still stashed away in the side of that backpack from a recent camping trip? Are you wearing anything that will have to be removed at the security checkpoint due to pieces of metal? Anything you can do to make sure you breeze through security without any issue will help prevent airline delays and benefit everyone travelling with you.


Upon arrival at the airport:

Keep all your travel documents in one place

Keep all your travel documents in one place

Keep all of your travel documents handy when you arrive at the airport. You will need your identification, boarding pass, confirmation numbers, flight numbers, as well as any phone numbers of travel agencies you’ve used to book your flight or people who are waiting for your flight arrival. Have these in an easily accessible place and protected place inside the bag you will bring with you onboard, and keeping this information with you in your carry on is essential in the event of an airline delay. Having this information prepared ahead of time and stored safely on you will greatly improve the ease and time it takes for passengers to board.


The delay has been announced:

It’s happened, an airline delay has been announced and your plans have been completely thrown off. Remember to stay calm, keep your cool, remain courteous and take the following advice:

Find out how long your flight is expected to be delayed This is the first step you will need to make in order to be able to take any further action by assessing how the length of the airline delay will affect your plans. Depending on the expected length of the airline delay, you may simply need to return home and come back to the airport at a later time. However if you’re in the middle of your journey and suddenly left high and dry in another state or country, you will need to consider making arrangements for accommodation if the delay is expected to last longer than you can wait at the airport.

Confirm with the airline if your connecting flights will be missed. It’s the airline delay domino effect all passengers dread: The first leg of your journey has been delayed by two hours, and now you are scheduled to make your connecting flight before you’ll even arrive at your next destination. Discuss with an airline representative how to arrange another connecting flight if you are concerned you will miss your scheduled connection.

Enquire about the fate of your baggage. Different airlines will have different procedures regarding checked luggage when there are airline delays or cancelled flights, and it will all depend on the situation at the time as well as what point in your journey you have encountered the flight delay. You can receive information about your baggage from an agent or customer service representative for the airline.

Consider your little travelling companions. Experiencing a flight delay on your own is already an exasperating thing to deal with. Being stuck in an airport with a baby and/or small children is an entirely different level of stress. Babies and children’s needs come first, and they will have feeding and sleeping schedules that need to be accounted for. It’s difficult to discuss important details of your flight and make new arrangements when your toddler doesn’t understand why they’ve been sitting in the lounge for two hours and are out of snacks. Your ability to maintain your cool and cope with the situation will be helped by ensuring their needs are met.

  • Ask for help as soon as you need it – staff will be happy to point you in the right direction for food, restroom facilities and anything else you will need. If you’re already onboard a delayed aircraft, ask the attendants if there are any snacks or activities for children.
  • Make sure you have a bag of tricks handy before you travel – snacks, small toys and books will be worth their weight in gold.
  • Songs and games on a tablet or smartphone will keep little ones happy for periods of time, ensuring the volume is quiet enough not to disturb anyone sitting nearby. This is helpful when stuck on a delayed aircraft unable to leave your seats.
  • A magazine can be fun for children if you talk about different pictures on each page and make up stories for them.
  • Watching planes and crew outside can hold a little one’s attention for small bursts of time, try waving at a pilot or crew! They might wave back!

Inform people of the airline delay. If necessary, contact anyone who was responsible for meeting you at your destination to inform them of the airline delay. If you were expected by any of your friends, family members or business contacts to be somewhere at a certain time, make sure to let them know your flight has been delayed and make alternative arrangements. Make sure anyone who is responsible to meet you at the airport has your new flight details so they can monitor the situation themselves.

Get comfortable. The hard fact is there is very little within your control when experiencing an airline delay. Try to use the downtime to your advantage – seize the opportunity to catch up on a little shut-eye, a good book, a meal. Read a book or a magazine, listen to music or get something to eat while you wait for your delayed flight. If you’re on board, you might still be able to use the in flight entertainment to watch a movie.



Try to remind yourself that getting anxious or angry won’t make your situation any better, and has the potential to make it much, much worse.

Your attitude makes all the difference. Keep tempers in check. The airline delay hasn’t been fair for you, the flight crew, or any other passenger, and although it may be difficult staying calm and polite, it will garner more responsiveness from those in a position to get you where you need to go.

For more ways to prepare your vacation, visit the Travel Planning category.