Canceled Flight? Here’s What to Do

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Imagine this: you’re at the airport, boarding pass in hand, and BAM! Your flight’s canceled. Frustrating? You betcha, but it’s not the end of the world.

This guide is your toolkit for handling a canceled flight like a pro. So, buckle up (metaphorically, of course), and let’s get you moving!

A plane landing on a runway. The word Cancelled is written across the image as a banner.

Stay Calm and Take Control

Canceled flights can throw anyone into a tailspin, but panicking won’t solve anything. Instead, take a deep breath and follow these steps to gain control of the situation:

1. Confirm the cancellation and reason

First things first, verify that your flight is actually canceled. Start by checking the airport screens, your airline app, and gate announcements. You can also plug your flight number into a site like

Head to the nearest information desk or gate agent. Confirm the cancellation a second time, and ask about the reason behind it. Was it a mechanical issue? Unexpected weather? Knowing the cause can help you gauge the likelihood of a quick resolution and help you figure out your options.

Also check the airline’s official profiles on platforms like Twitter or Facebook for for info. Some airlines use their social media accounts to communicate important information and updates.

2. Breathe and Assess

It’s okay to feel frustrated, but remember, yelling at the agent won’t expedite things. Staying calm and courteous will make them more likely to go the extra mile to help.

Take a moment to gather your thoughts and assess the urgency of your trip. Do you absolutely need to reach your destination ASAP, or can you be flexible with your schedule?

3. Find Out If Your Flight Was Rebooked

Check your phone. Many airlines automatically rebook passengers on the next available flight, so see if you’ve received an update. If you haven’t received a text, open the airline’s app or website and check your reservation there as well.

ⓘ PRO TIP: Be sure to provide your phone number when booking a flight. It’s the fastest way to be notified if your flight has been changed.

A gate agent explaining something to a frustrated man who's leaning on the counter.

Explore Your Options

Now that you’ve confirmed the cancellation, gathered your bearings, and checked for automatic rebooking, it’s time to explore your options.

If your airline hasn’t automatically rebooked you, here’s what to do next:

4. Talk to the Airline Agent

With your boarding pass and itinerary in hand, head directly to the airline’s customer service desk or call their hotline. Explain that you’re aware of the cancellation and haven’t received any information about rebooking.

Lines might be long during disruptions, so bring your patience and a positive attitude. Remember, staying calm and courteous will make the experience smoother for everyone involved.

Don’t have the patience to stand in a long line to speak with a gate agent or someone at check-in? Lots of people work for airlines and can help you, not just those at the airport. Depending on your airline, here are some other options to try:

  • Grab your phone and call your airline while you wait.
  • If you’ve got access to an airport lounge through PriorityPass or your credit card, head to the front desk to see if a lounge agent can help you.
  • Open the airline’s app and chat with an agent (if available)
  • Get on Twitter/X and DM your airline.
  • Text their customer service through your phone.

Ask the agent about alternative flights, and explain your situation. Do you need to arrive at your destination by a certain time? Are there any specific airports you prefer flying into? Is your schedule flexible? The more information you provide, the better the agent can assist you.

ⓘ PRO TIP: If you’re calling a U.S. customer service line and there’s a long wait, try calling one of the airline’s international numbers (listed on their website). In some cases, it might be worth it to pay for an overseas call rather than be stuck for hours on a U.S. hotline.

5. Explore Your Rebooking Options

Listen attentively as the agent offers you different flight options. These will depend greatly on various factors, including the reason for the cancellation, the airline’s schedule, and seat availability on other flights. However, some general possibilities include:

  • Rebooking on the next available flight with your original airline: This might be the quickest option, but it could come with drawbacks, such as longer travel times due to connections or even waiting for a later flight that day.
  • Rebooking on a different flight with your original airline: This could offer a quicker arrival time or fewer connections, but it might also come with a higher cost or require a significant change in your travel plans.
  • Rebooking on a flight with a different airline: If your original airline doesn’t have suitable options, the agent might explore rebooking you on another airline flying to your destination.
  • Standing by for a later flight: This option involves waiting at the airport for the next available seat on a similar route, but it might not be the quickest solution.
  • Changing your destination: In rare cases, if your original destination is inaccessible for some reason, the agent might propose rebooking you to a nearby airport.
  • Voucher or refund: If none of those options work for you or you simply don’t need/want to travel anymore, the agent might offer a refund or issue a voucher for future travel with their airline.

Carefully consider the pros and cons of each option before you commit. Consider factors like travel time, arrival time, number of connections, cost, and potential delays caused by rebooking on another airline.

Don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions or suggest an alternative option if the initial suggestions don’t meet your needs.

ⓘ PRO TIP: Most agents are directed to offer a credit or voucher and not suggest a refund as an option. If you’d prefer a refund, you will have to clearly ask for it. Just know that it may take a week or more for the funds to be credited to your bank or credit card account.

A man holding his cell phone and checking his watch at the airport.

6. Ask About Accommodations & Meals (If Required)

If your flight is significantly delayed or canceled, and you’re stuck at the airport overnight, you’re going to need to eat and sleep somewhere.

Check with the gate agent or customer service to find out if you qualify for meal and lodging vouchers. If so, it never hurts to ask if they can help with making the reservation. If not, research nearby hotels using your phone or a travel app. Consider factors like proximity to the airport, shuttle availability, and cost when making your choice.

If the airline provides meal vouchers, use them at designated restaurants or airport food outlets. If not, explore dining options at the airport or nearby restaurants if you have access to them.

Whether you get vouchers or not, save all emails and receipts. You might be able to claim reimbursement later.

ⓘ PRO TIP: Document everything! Keep all your flight confirmation emails, boarding passes, communication with the airline (including agent names), and receipts for any additional expenses caused by the cancellation. This documentation will be crucial if you need to file a complaint or claim insurance later.

7. Explore Other Alternatives (If Needed)

If none of the rebooking options are acceptable, use websites or apps like Google Flights, Kayak, or Skyscanner to compare flight options across different airlines. There may be alternative solutions that the airline may not have offered.

Another idea is to fly into another airport and get to your final destination by rental car, train, or bus. Not ideal, but hey, it could be the fastest way to get there.

A man sitting on a windowsill at the airport, with his head in his hands. Yellow suitcase next to him.

If All Else Fails: Taking Further Action

On the off chance that you still encounter difficulties, here’s what else you can do.

8. File a Complaint with the Airline

If you’re dissatisfied with how they chose to handle your situation, you can file a formal complaint with the airline directly.

Your complaint should outline the details of your experience, including the flight information, the reason for the cancellation, and any attempts you made to resolve the issue with the airline.

9. File a Complaint with the Authorities

Additionally, you can file a complaint with the relevant regulatory body in your country or the country where the airline is headquartered.

In the U.S., this would be the Department of Transportation (DOT). These entities can help mediate disputes and ensure airlines comply with regulations regarding passenger rights.

10. Check Your Travel Insurance Coverage

If you purchased travel insurance, review your policy to understand if it covers canceled flights and associated expenses like meals or accommodation. Depending on the specific coverage, you might be eligible for reimbursement after filing a claim with your insurance provider.

11. Find Out If Your Credit Card Covers Canceled Flights

Several credit cards offer travel insurance benefits as part of their perks. Call your company to check the benefits. They may coverage unexpected travel disruptions like cancellations and delays.

12. Seek Assistance from Companies Like AirHelp

If all of this is overwhelming, companies like AirHelp can help. They specialize in assisting passengers with claiming cancelled flight compensation and can handle the communication and paperwork on your behalf.

While their services come with a fee, many offer a “no win, no fee” approach. You’ll only pay if they successfully obtain compensation for you.

13. Consider Legal Options

If you’ve exhausted all your other options and the cancellation or delay resulted in substantial financial losses beyond basic rebooking costs (e.g., missed connections, medical emergencies), consulting with an attorney might be necessary.

They can advise you on your legal options and the potential for pursuing a legal claim against the airline.

Flight departure billboard showing a bunch of cancelled flights.

Understand Your Rights as a Traveler

When your flight is canceled or significantly delayed, it’s important to understand the rights you have as a passenger. These rights vary depending on whether you’re traveling domestically within the US or internationally, and the reason for the flight disruption.

Here’s a breakdown:

Your Legal Rights

In the United States, the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates airline passenger rights. According to DOT regulations, if a domestic flight is delayed or canceled, airlines must offer passengers the option to rebook or receive a refund for the unused portion of their trip.

Unfortunately, the DOT rules do not specify a clear definition of what constitutes a “significant delay.” As long as they stick to the rules that are already in place, it is up to each airline to determine its own compensation policy.

In the European Union, passenger rights are more comprehensive. EU Regulation 261/2004 outlines specific rules for flight delays and cancellations. Passengers departing from/arriving at an EU airport on an EU airline may be eligible for compensation, unless the delay or cancellation is beyond the airline’s control (like weather or security issues).

The amount of compensation depends on the length of the delay and the distance of the flight.

Airline Policies

Generally, airlines are not obligated to provide compensation for cancellations caused by weather, as it is considered a “force majeure” or extraordinary circumstance beyond their control.

However, airlines may offer alternative arrangements such as rebooking you on the next available flight, providing accommodation or meals, or offering a refund. It’s essential to check the terms and conditions of the airline you’re flying with, as well as any relevant regulations in your country or region.

In the United States, airline policies for compensation in case of a delayed or canceled flight vary by carrier. As long as they follow the rules that are already in place, each airline can make up its own policy.

ⓘ PRO TIP: The U.S. Department of Transportation has a Cancellation and Delay Dashboard that shows which services airlines commit to providing in case of controllable cancellations or delays. Green checkmarks indicate commitments, while red “x” marks indicate non-commitment. Use this dashboard to compare airlines when making travel decisions.

Bon Voyage (Eventually)!

Flight cancellations, while frustrating, are a bump in the road, not the end of the trip. So, don’t let it derail your travel spirit!

After all, even a delayed journey can be part of the adventure.

ⓘ BONUS TIP: While you’re waiting, explore the airport. Even detours can lead to unexpected delights! You might discover a gem of a coffee shop or bookstore, or even strike up a conversation with a fellow traveler and share stories.

How to Avoid Flight Delays: 7 Tips for Travelers

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It, where she documents her trips, shares practical itineraries, and offers insider tips. She’s passionate about helping fellow travelers save time, money, and hassle, and loves to discover new places to explore.

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