Delays at Airports – What to Do When You Get Stuck

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Everyone loves a delayed flight

You make it to the airport on time, get through the security line with the minimum of groping, get to the monitors and there it is. “FLIGHT DELAYED” appears in big bold highlighted letters next to your flight. After you have double checked and triple checked the board, what do you do now?

What Causes Delays


If you fought through the weather to get to the airport it will come as little surprise when your flight is delayed by the elements, but as I write this I am sitting at an airport with nothing but an overcast sky so the weather delay caught me by surprise. You can be delayed because your plane is coming in late because of weather delays or because the weather at your destination or along your route is bad.

Some airports get more weather delays than others. If you have a choice in the winter take a direct flight because every airport you add to your itinerary is one more chance for weather delays. Sometime this winter, expect to see Denver closed by snow for a day or two. It happens every year. Chicago is another airport to avoid in the winter if you can. (He says with plans to fly through Chicago O’Hare next week).

Mechanical Difficulties

Delays at Airports - What to Do When You Get Stuck #travel #trip #vacation #airport #flying #delay #airports #flightsIf one of the engines on your plane does not work, that plane won’t go anywhere until it is fixed or replaced with another plane. But what might surprise you is that mechanical difficulties come in all kinds. Once in Boston, I watched as the flight attendants struggled to close an overhead bin that would not latch. With each successive slam, we approached the inevitable trip back to the gate. The problem was fixed quickly with some duct tape by a mechanic but not before delaying us at least half an hour.


Your plane cannot take off without a pilot or two. Sometimes your airplane is there, the weather is clear but your pilot has gotten lost, sick, or stuck on his way to work. Sometimes flight crews fly from their home city to commute into work. They are as subject to delays as you are.

Volcanic Ash

Before this year most of us would not have expected volcanoes to have an impact on air travel to the extent they have this year. The eruption of Mount Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland taught us differently. As we have learned, when volcanic ash is ingested by jet engines they have a tendency to stop functioning. This propensity grounded flights in Europe for weeks. Like the weather, this sort of event is beyond the airline’s control. Maybe people found that the only option was traveling far enough on ground transportation to exit the area of air space covered by the ash cloud.

What do you do now?

Calm Down

You might be waiting for a while. Unless you can fix the plane, fly the plane or change the weather this problem is out of your hands. Make yourself comfortable. This is one of the reasons you should fly with a good book, a kindle, a smartphone loaded with podcasts or a great love for people watching.

Note that your gate agent is also not able to fix the plane nor create one out of thin air. I remember being told once that our flight was delayed because air traffic coming out of the east coast was being snarled by a hurricane. The gate agent thanked me for taking the news calmly. People had been yelling at the gate agent as if she had power over hurricanes. I am going to go out on a limb and say that if she had such powers then this might not have been the career path she would have chosen.


You may want to contact your hotel and tell them you will be arriving later. Enduring a flight delay only to arrive at the hotel and find they gave away your room is not how you want your travel day to end. If you have friends or family picking you up at the airport you might want to let them know of your delay as well… if you ever want them to pick you up at the airport again.

Canceled Flights

At some point when delays get long enough a flight will be canceled. The new passenger’s rights laws in the U.S. limits how long you can be delayed in a plane on the runway. This has led to a greater number of flights that previously would be delayed simply being canceled. Typically if a flight is canceled the airline will try and book you on a new flight but expect ticket agents and gate agents to be overwhelmed. You might be better off calling your travel agent if you have one, or the airline’s 800 number.

Know Your Rights

What compensation, if any, you may be eligible for a canceled flight will be governed by both the new passenger rights law as well as your contract with the airline which is known as the contract of carriage.

If all else fails during a 3-hour delay, I might also suggest writing a blog post about flight delays to pass the time.

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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