Five tips for handling delayed domestic and international flights

By Chris Chamberlin, March 11 2019
Five tips for handling delayed domestic and international flights

This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.

Flight delays aren’t fun for anybody: they can cause people to miss meetings, lose precious time on holidays, or miss out on valuable time with family when jetting home – but when a delay strikes, there are things you can do to minimise both the interruption, and any costs you might face.

Beyond a typical one-hour delay, here are five tips for handling more significant disruptions to your domestic and international travels, when your plans get pushed back by several hours or even overnight.

1. Never be afraid to ask for an earlier flight

While your options may be limited on international routes, domestic flights can run much more frequently, so if your journey ends up delayed, don’t be afraid to request an earlier flight: even if you’re booked onto the lowest-cost, non-flexible airfare.

That request can be made in the lounge or at an airport service desk when travelling with only cabin baggage, or at check-in when you’re lugging a suitcase along, but if many flights from that airport are delayed – thanks to bad weather, for example – those queues can get lengthy, so here’s what I do.

Assuming I’ve only got a cabin bag, I’ll take a quick look at the departures screen for any earlier flights to my destination, especially any that are already boarding, and will wander to one of those departure gates.

When the staff member manning the computer seems to have a spare moment, I’ll approach, and say something like this:

“Hi, I’m booked onto flight (123) to (destination) which just got delayed by (X) hours. I’ve only got cabin baggage: any chance I could squeeze onto this flight if there’s room? I don’t mind if the seat is bad!”

I never expect to be moved just because a seat is free, but have never had that request denied at the gate – even when a flight is on final call – although it generally means giving up my prized 4A for something like 27E.

End result: I’m home or onto my next meeting closer to the time I’d originally planned, the airline fills a seat that was about to fly empty and the seat on my original flight is released for a last-minute booking or for somebody else to be moved forward from an even later flight, so it’s a win all around.

2. Can’t get home earlier? See what your airline will cover

Depending on your airline and the delay, you could be provided with nothing at all; may be eligible for a meal voucher to spend at the airport; or may even get overnight accommodation – so talk to your airline and see what they’ll provide.

Even if your travel insurance covers flight delays and disruptions, many insurers insist that you contact your airline for redress before submitting a claim: after all, if your airline was willing to pay for a hotel but you went and booked your own, for example, that’s not an expense many insurers would reimburse.

When you do incur out-of-pocket expenses beyond those covered by the airline, such as for meals, hotels, transfers, phone calls and other costs relating to your delay, be sure to keep all receipts to help substantiate a later claim, and ask your airline for an ‘insurance letter’, which sets out the basic details of the delay.

3. Priority Pass can come in handy

During significant delays it’s common for airline lounges to get crowded, so even though your business class ticket or frequent flyer status gets you in there, a Priority Pass card could be your ticket to a quieter lounge elsewhere at the airport, or to a free meal at an airport restaurant.

When flying through Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, passengers departing from Terminals 1, 2 and 3 have no fewer than nine airside Priority Pass lounges to choose from: while at Sydney Airport, travellers have multiple restaurants options in each terminal, where one ‘lounge visit’ processed to your Priority Pass account unlocks $36 of food and drink.

Read: Priority Pass now offers $36 of food, drink at Sydney Airport

Keep in mind that if yours is an unlimited (Prestige) membership, there’s nothing stopping you from visiting more than one lounge or restaurant before a flight, as long as you have a valid boarding pass to present with each swipe.

For instance, a Qantas domestic passenger flying through Sydney Airport might arrive around lunchtime for a mid-afternoon flight: using Priority Pass for a bite before heading to the Qantas lounge to await boarding, but if there’s a long delay, could then venture to a different Priority Pass restaurant for dinner, before eventually boarding their flight.

Some Priority Pass lounges also have time limits – 3-4 hours is a common benchmark – so at airports like Singapore which have plenty of lounges to choose from during a longer delay, you could move from one to the next courtesy of that unlimited membership, without incurring any additional costs.

4. Check your eligibility for ‘EU261’ compensation

If you’re flying to, from, or within Europe (currently including London and the UK), you may be entitled to claim compensation when your journey is delayed by just two hours or more. Here’s a brief outline:

  • Flights under 1,500km: €250 (A$400) compensation for a delay of two hours or more.
  • Intra-EU flights over 1,500km:  €400 (A$639) compensation for a delay of three hours or more.
  • Non-EU flights 1,501km to 3,499km: also €400, when delayed by 3+ hours.
  • Non-EU flights over 3,500km: €600 (A$960) compensation when delayed by four hours or more.

Eligibility can vary depending on the airline and flight you originally booked – Qantas’ flights from London to Singapore and Perth are covered, but the Roo’s flights to London from the same cities are not – so for the full details, read our detailed guide.

Read: How to claim compensation for a delayed or cancelled European flight

5. Hold onto your boarding passes and e-tickets

Once you’ve finally reached your destination, be sure to grab your boarding pass from the seat pocket: not only does this help with any later ‘missing points’ claims if your rewards don’t arrive as expected, but travel insurers may ask for copies when considering your claim.

On overseas trips, this is especially true of not only your delayed flight, but also your international departing flight from Australia at the beginning of that trip, as well as your international returning flight to Australia at the end.

These are important because they help prove how long you were out of the country for, which can affect cover under some policies (some insurers only cover trips of 14 or 30 days, for example, so in those cases, longer journeys may not be covered).

As a rule, I simply keep all of my boarding passes until I’ve returned home from every trip, any expected frequent flyer points have been credited correctly, and if applicable, any insurance claims have been finalised.

Also read: Flight cancelled? Qantas treats you based on 'customer value' formula

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2014

Total posts 23

I’d also add hang onto your original baggage claim ticket as well as your bags may leave without you.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 113

Thanks Chris and ABT, I love practical articles like this. Every travellers gets delays and for business travellers they are especially problematic. When this happens to me I try to do a few things.

1. Don't panic. Don't get angry or emotional. Just focus on the problem and how you're doing to handle it.
2. Move fast. Definitely ask about changing flights, and if you have 'premium' frequent flyer status this helps. There will be hundreds of other delayed passengers all seeking the same resolution so make sure you are ahead of the queue.
3 Think ahead. While the airline is looking at options for your flight, you should be thinking of other alternatives in case the obvious options don't work. What is your 'Plan B'?
4. Get ahead of the crowd. One time I was travelling on a Qantas flight from London to Singapore, the flight was delayed on the ground, I realised that by the time it arrived all of the onwards flights to Australia would have departed, leaving Qantas to accommodate almost an entire A380's worth of passengers. I called ahead to the Changi Crowne Plaza T3 hotel to book a room myself, because the risk was that it wouldn't have enough rooms for all the delayed QF passengers and I could end up somewhere further away, not as good, and maybe even waiting on arrival at SIN for a shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel. By booking my own room I got what I wanted and took control of the situation.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jul 2014

Total posts 58

Depending on the airline, Twitter can be very useful in these circumstances - responses are often much quicker than those of call centres, and can be deployed when waiting in an airport queue, if necessary.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

08 Jun 2018

Total posts 96

Chris. All good advice. And some practical comments too. Two things I would add / reinforce. (1) being polite and respectful to staff is far more likely to get you the result you want than throwing a tantrum. Or, worse, the “do you know who I am” speech. Staff are far more likely to help someone that treats them with respect.

(2) be flexible. If there’s more than one airport that serves your destination then it may be that you could get home via a slightly different route. Last year flying BA JFK to LHR. Flight was cancelled and as I was in a meeting didn’t find out until too late to grab an alternative to LHR, but did ask about LGW and got a seat on that flight. Not absolutely ideal, but better than an extra night in New York and missed meetings the next day.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 171

So Simple, So Important. Thanks, Chris. I'm with QFP1 & Ourmanin. Manners, courtesy & calmness will get you everywhere. So while I need some time out (damn you ABT!), here's a true tale...

Some years back GW Bush declares 'war on terror' (let's not go there) and I'm in the middle of Indonesia for a large US Company. Within 45mins I'm in a Helo and flown to Medan, then I'm on a flight to Jakarta and I'm required to meet in Singapore for a head count. As I walk to the magic SQ Bus counter in CGK I notice a well known Australian behind me. I put my ticket on the counter (yes many years ago) and say, 'I think I'm 12A'. I then hear that voice behind me, 'Bull$%@!, I'm in 12A'. So, what do you do...

I was happy to be on the flight. I let the 'name' have 12A but asked SQ to contact SQ SIN Help Desk so that when we both arrived we could have it all sorted. So here we are once we've landed, 'name' and I are off the plane powerwalking to the Help Desk and, when we arrive, off he goes (yes, everyone a little stressed courtesy of GW and his war), 'blah, blah, blah'. Of course, SQ being SQ don't like a scene and then the grey suits, the heavies, appear and one takes over....

'Sir, please explain your situation'. So off went 'name' and off he went big time. Being a younger fellow (I was 29yrs) I stood back and let name go for it, all Aussie style - and all in Singapore. The 'name' was sorted, indeed he got 12A, looked at me, flicked his ticket and off he went - straight to the Business Lounge. Out of sight! Then, and then, the SQ grey suit looks at me and apologizes, as only SQ can. I was cool, happy to be on the flight and going home. I said with sincere cheer, 'That's all OK, I'm always happy to fly with Singapore'. And then, yes, then...

'Sir, thank you so much. Would you be happy flying First'. Out comes seat 4A and I'm whisked off to the First Lounge. I'm escorted too, asked if I like Champers (at the time I didn't know too much), and they pull out Krug Vintage. I did what only a young lad should do, inhaled it thinking no one was watching. Time goes by, have a shower and freshen up and a wonderful, yet tiny, Singapore Girl asks me to follow her for boarding. Now comes the good part....

I exit the First Lounge the same time as 'name' exits the Business Lounge, and he's had at least a bottle or three. We walk, strangely enough together, to Boarding he chats away happy as Larry with his 12A. I remember him saying, as we got close to the gate, 'Did you get on?', before I could say yes that magnificent Singapore Girl somehow appears out of nowhere and blocks him, yes blocks 'name', for the First passenger. I remember looking over my shoulder as he stands there like a stunned mullet, holding up that burgundy ticket and, trying to be as cool and understated as I could be and simply could just manage, 'enjoy your flight 'name''.

As to the flight? Can't remember a thing. I remember being woken for landing which was early morning. My first, First, experience and not a thing to recall on board. Damn that Krug.

.....a little sunshine goes a long way. Cheers.

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Five tips for handling delayed domestic and international flights