As of 2017 airlines carried over 4.1 billion travellers per year on scheduled flights. Yet not all their trips were not smooth. Flights get re-scheduled, delayed and cancelled, causing havoc and frustration for travellers.
Over the years, I have personally flown over 1440 flights on various airlines and witnessed that while distruptions can happen to any airline, the way how these are handled by airlines vary. In next, I share few tips, based on my experiences.
1) Let's clarify the terms, what's what:
- Flight re-scheduling: change of flight time more than 48 hours before the flight, while keeping the same flight number. It happens most often during seasonal change, when airlines are adjusting from winter to summer (or vv) schedules.
- Flight delay: officially, arriving 15min or more later than scheduled. However you can estimate this also in advance when you see that the departure is postponed.
- Flight cancellation: previously scheduled flight is not going to take place.
2) Check your flight reservation status bi-weekly after the purchase and daily on week of departure. While airlines take your contact details in the booking, don't expect that they inform you on the irregularities in advance. Some airlines might do it, but many don't.
Extra tip: if you type your flight number in Google search, it also shows the status of your flight number today. For advanced tracking, Flightaware and Flightradar24 are useful. Expertflyer gives also detailed status reports.
3) Understand your rights as passenger. Don't expect that airlines will brief you on those (while somewhere, half-hidden on their websites you might find them). Depending on where you fly, you might be protected by the EU Air Passenger Rights, DOT Fly Rights or other regulation in the country of flight departure. In many cases also Montreal Convention kicks in.
In general I would summarise them as follows:
- In case of delay longer than 2 hours, you'll get food vouchers and 2 free phone calls. In longer delays also overnight accommodation.
- In case of delay causing you to mis-connect your connecting flight (on the same ticket), you'll be rebooked on airline's expense to the next available flight in the same (or higher) class of service with the same or partnering airline.
- When delay / cancellation was fault of the airline, for example technical issues with the plane, staff shortage (i.e. not weather or other force majore) you should also get cash compensation.
4) If you notice a delay, start collecting the evidence on the delay. Despite the regulations and your right for care, airlines are notorious for avoiding responsibility whenever possible. Thus, you need a proof of the situation.
- Take pictures of the in-airport displays, showing the status of your flight and other flights in the same airport. This is good when your flight is "odd" delay/cancellation in otherwise operationally normal day (ie. airline can't blame weather)
- At Flightaware and Flightradar24 you can also see the exact status of the plane you're supposed to fly with - also if there's a delay with incoming flight.
- Record the airline announcements (as audio or video) on the phone.
- In case of cancellation, ask a written statement from the airline (every airline has a template for that).
5) Maintain a friendly smile when communicating with ground staff in the airport. While the experience might be quite frustrating, don't blame the agents. They are there to help you and just following their management orders.
Talk in calm voice and help to come up with solutions regarding accommodation or new flights.
For example in case when rebooking is required due to misconnect or cancellation, you can see what alternatives are available on Expertflyer availablity search or Google Flights and suggest a solution from there. Just bear in mind that you can be re-routed to other airlines, when they have joint interlining agreement (within the same alliance, for sure, but also other partner airlines) again Expertflyer is handy here (view at Travel Information - Interlining Agreements).
In case of weather distruption, when whole airport seems to be closing and there's a high risk of running out of available hotel rooms in the area, book your room first (via any hotel app) and claim back the cost later. Few times this has helped me avoiding sleeping on the airport floor in Frankfurt and Milan.
6) Keep all the documents for possible follow-up with customer support (or suing the airline when it does not honour your passenger rights. At wiki you can read about some EU court cases on the topic.
And remember, you do have a choice when selecting your airline. In each part of the world there are better and worse performers on punctuality. See this Telegraph article for latest TOP15.
PS. Feel free to contact me via WhatsApp at +372 5885 9888 when your are experiencing irregularities in your travel.
PPS. I took the photo in Sydney airport some years ago.