Are you doing all of these things?
You have the perfect travel day planned, ready to head to a well-deserved vacation or head home to sleep in your own bed when it happens–your flight is canceled or delayed. It happens to every traveler eventually. Many delays are out of your hands, but there is a lot you can do to stack the odds in your favor. Getting where you need to go on time starts well before you get to the airport by being strategic about which flights you choose. If you do everything right and still hit snafus, check out your rights here.
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Get the First Flight of the Day
Airlines use the same planes multiple times a day. If an airplane shows up at your airport late because its previous flight got behind schedule, an airline may be forced to delay or cancel subsequent flights. The best way to avoid delays due to your plane not being at the airport in time to leave on schedule is to book the first flight of the day.
“We often see that afternoon flights experience the greatest number of disruptions, which could be due to a domino effect of delays throughout the morning and early afternoon. Taking the first flight of the day when possible will reduce the likelihood of a disruption,” says Alice Mariscotti-Wyatt, air passenger rights expert and head of content at AirHelp–a leading air passenger rights company.
Avoid Big Airports
Crowded airspace is a major reason for flight cancellations and delays. Avoiding hubs and flying out of a smaller airport with fewer flights can help get you where you need to go on time. “Large airports tend to have the most delays and cancellations simply because they attract a high number of aircraft,” says Duke Armitage, an airline pilot and founder of Aviamonde. Keep this in mind when booking connecting flights too and choose to connect in a smaller airport if possible.
Direct flights often cost more, but when a trip only involves one airplane travelers don’t need to worry about missing a connection that can put them way behind schedule. They also don’t need to deal with a later flight that may be canceled or delayed, standing them in between home and their destination.
“Every new flight that is introduced into your itinerary creates more opportunities for possible delays, cancellations, and their related issues,” says Jessica Schmit from Uprooted Traveler. As a bonus, only needing to deal with one airport and catch one flight cuts down on stress.
Book Smart Itineraries
If booking connecting flights is unavoidable, be smart about your itinerary. Book flights together in one transaction with the same (or partner) airlines. That way if your first flight is delayed or canceled, the airline should rebook you with as little disruption to your travel schedule as possible. If you book flight segments separately, the airline is unlikely to be sympathetic if your first flight is delayed and you miss your connection. This can cause further delays and major headaches.
Carl Grider from A Brother Abroad uses another trick when he has connecting flights. Sometimes he will book a long layover to get on the first flight of the day out of the airport where he is connecting because those flights always have fewer delays and cancellations. This has the added benefit of giving him some time to explore a different city along the way to his final destination.
Check Your Flight’s On-Time History
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics tracks the on-time statistics for scheduled routes. “This gives a good indication of how likely your flight might be delayed so you can decide whether you should book another flight,” says Armitage. While there are no guarantees, if the route you are flying has a pretty good on-time record you reduce your chances of delay and cancellations on your flight.
Check the Weather Forecast
If you have some flexibility, check the predicted weather at your home airport and destination. While weather conditions can change on a dime, trying to book a flight on a day when clear skies are predicted at both ends of your route can help ensure mother nature doesn’t interfere with your travel plans.
Some days are busier travel days than others. Knowing which days are the busiest can help your travel run smoothly. Most weeks there are fewer flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays making those the best days to fly. Traveling mid-week doesn’t just mean shorter lines at security, it also means fewer delays and cancellations due to crowded air space, says Armitage.
Fly Off Season
While some travel is tied to specific dates so you make it to a wedding, a conference, or Christmas with Mom, off-peak travel means fewer delays and cancellations. Fewer planes in the sky and fewer passengers on the ground trying to board those planes mean there is a better chance of your flight taking off as expected.
Be Prepared to Be Flexible
Download the app for your airline and be sure to opt-in to get instant notifications. That way, as soon as you hear there is a delay or cancellation you can start contacting the airline to get rebooked. “Flight updates almost always show in the app before an email goes out or the airport screens reflect them,” says TV Travel Host Sandra McLemore. She adds that you should keep an eye on connecting flights throughout the day. If you need to rebook, try to contact the airline through multiple channels, including phone, email, and chat. If you are on top of things, even though your original flight may not go as planned, you may be able to avoid a delay in getting where you need to go.
Take Personal Responsibility
Airlines are usually responsible for making the call to delay a cancel a flight. However, passengers sometimes inadvertently cause their own travel woes. Take steps to ensure you don’t miss your flight. Arrive at the airport early, take carry-on baggage only and consider enrolling in a skip-the-line program like TSA PreCheck or Clear.
Check Which Airlines Have the Best on Time Performance
When it comes to on-time flights, some airlines have a better track record than others. Check the Official Airline Guide’s data on airline performance to compare carriers (and airports) when choosing your flights. No one can predict with certainty when a bad storm or mechanical issues will throw a wrench in your travel plans, but you can increase your chances of avoiding delays and cancellations by going with an airline that has a history of reliability.