How should airlines manage flight delays?

By David Flynn, April 4 2013

Delays are an inevitable and thus inescapable part of travel. They're especially galling when your trip is meant to dovetail into a connecting flight or an important meeting.

So how should airlines handle these hiccups in a simple passenger-centric manner?

There are several preflight strategies, such as advising customers as early as possible – in the case of major delays, potentially even before they leave for the airport – and always, always, keeping them informed.

Once the flight lands, you expect to see a ground staff team ready for some 'travel triage' such as directing connecting travellers to their next flight, or in some instances to overnight accommodation if the last onwards flight has already departed.

And there's something else which airlines can do, which I experienced on Air Canada's daily AC34 flight from Sydney to Toronto in mid-February.

This flight was delayed at both ends due to a major winter storm along the Atlantic Coast. On the day I travelled, we left Sydney over five hours after our planned 12.30pm departure.

Fortunately I'd been kept up to date on these delays by Air Canada's SMS alert system, so I left the office early afternoon instead of rocking up for a 9.30am checkin and spending the better part of the day in the airport. And lounge access, even when it's Air New Zealand's Sydney Koru Club Lounge, always softens the blow.

When it finally came time to board the flight, I noticed two Air Canada crew at the gate handing out cards offering delayed travellers a discount on future AC travel.

This goes one step beyond the usual apologies over the inflight PA system.

The discount itself turned out to be a mere 10%, and applies only to bookings made directly with the airline on aircanada.com.

But it's better than nothing, and it's somewhere to start the consideration of what practical steps an airline should take for a seriously delayed flight.

What's your experience, and your expectation, of how airlines should handle major flight delays, especially when it comes to trying to retain your business?

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

'Yes' to this offer of discounted travel but 'No' to a mere 10%, come on, how about a more substantial 25%?

Or maybe airlines should offer a choice between a 10% discount OR a set number of frequent flyer points.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2221

Dunno, for FFs I'd say that FF points are a better compensation, but discounts or vouchers also work. I know AirAsia domestic (AK) had a policy that if a flight took off over three hours late, everyone would be compensated RM 200.

Made for some entertaining flying, as at about the two-hour delay mark everyone changes to praying it'll be just over three hours...

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

I think a voucher for duty-free might also be good, eg $100 per passenger, or a travel voucher which you can use on dity-fre or for your next booking.

11 Jan 2012

Total posts 20

Your experience with Air Canada differs immensley from mine. I flew back with them last week from Vancouver to Sydney. The plane diverted to Honolulu due to a medical emerceny but then had a mechanical issue and was unable to refuel. After sitting on the plane for over three hours, everyone was then de-planed (I hate that phrase) and had to clear US customs - which of course cause numerous issues as many passengers didnt have ESTAs. Once through customs, there was no AC rep anywhere to be seen, the crew remained hidden and you therefore had a 777-load of passengers wandering around looking for answers. After another 3 hours, an AC rep eventually appeared and then took another 2 hours to process all the passengers and give them hotel and transportation vouchers for a 14 hour layover. The food vouchers didnt even cover the cost of a basic meal and upon checking back in, there wasnt even any hint of an apology or additional compenstation offer. During the boarding process, passengers were handed the same voucher as shown in your photo but that was it.apart from a brief token apology from the captain,

My gripe is not about the compensation - its about basic customer service and communication. When you travel, incidents will happen. But for an airline to leave passengers abandoned without any news or communication is huge failure. Since the incident, there hasnt been any further followup from AC so it would appear that they dont really care!

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

That's terrible, especially the low value vouchers. I hope you're going to complain to Air Canada and tell them what 'compensation' you expect! I certainly would be! No stopover that is the fault of the airline should cost the traveller anything because you have already 'paid' in lost time, in inconvenience.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

Let's be fair though... If the delay is due to weather, why does the airline even need to compensate anything? That being said... a 10% voucher is already generous. Surely we are not so greedy that we expect to be compensated when the delay is no fault of the airline (weather... medical emergency etc)

It's different if the delay is due to something to do with the airline directly... In that instance then I think a compensation that is commensurate with the fare that you have booked and your frequent flyer status is fair.

I have been delayed and diverted more times than I care to mention and some of these have been due to the airline but more often than not it is weather related. Sure I feel a bit annoyed and inconvienced, but it's all part of travelling. I never sit there thinking about how much I should be compensated for it!

02 Jan 2013

Total posts 70

Should the sick passenger cough up the diversion and compensation costs that the pax would like? Bad weather? Who should be responsible.? I say don't travel at all with any airline if you want to be on time! I still think everyone should be happy to arrive at their destination! It is a metal tube that you will be in with big engines.I'm sure at HNL their was no rep on duty and they had to call one in.One would think it would take some time to organise accommodation etc.No communication usually means they working on a plan with various outcomes ie can the aircraft be fixed or do we have to replace the crew etc etc.I'm sure being in HNL makes this just a little bit harder to organise than if it was in Canada.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Oct 2012

Total posts 122

A lot of patience is required by the pax , believe me , when  2 or 3 ground staff have 50 + pax yelling at them , nothing is going to get done.

Most airlines will have procedures in place (some dont) 

I find if you are flying with the local national carrier then things run alot smoother on the ground, if not,  then in my experience with THAI in Brisbane a couple of years back , then x your fingers. They were going to overnight us there even though there were domestic carriers flying to Mel hourly !! so I bought my self a domestic ticket and let my insurance deal with it.

But then when I was stuck in Cairo with EK it took 2 days to get out, that was a bad 1! and yes no vouchers ect 

My attitude is i dont want a voucher, just het me on the next available with any airline going my direction. A 10% voucher doesnt  go very far especially if it can only be used on a "full fare" 

djb
djb

19 Dec 2011

Total posts 50

as with most frequent flyers we have faced lots of delays & missed connections. This is when you really find out how good an airline is. Last year we were flying from london to singaopre with cathay in business & the flight out of hong kong was delayed due to storms so we missed our connecting qantas flight to perth by minutes. Cathay were so good, they tried to rebook us on any airline to perth but due to the fact that it was the end of the school holidays they couldnt get us on anything for days. So they put us up at the crowne plaza at the airport, paid for room service & breakfast then flew us back bus to perth via hong kong the next morning. No arguments they just did it & to top it off we got status credits & points for the new flights. How's that for good customer service.

In contrast a few months later flying up to singapore with qantas to connect with cathay flight to colombo the qantas flight was cancelled due to a cracked window & the only way we found out about it was when we checked the departure time & it wasn't there. No sms, no phone call & the flight wasn't even going!

02 Jan 2013

Total posts 70

Did your booking have your correct phone number in it? Apparently any delay or cancellation sends an automatic message to the phone number in the booking.Were you in mobile phone coverage? I seem to get all alerts even when at the airport.

KG
KG

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 736

Expectation: Keep communicating with passengers and be open about timeframe of delay (refarin from messages saying we will update you in an hour and keep doing this for 5 hours). Adequate compensation but maybe more important a personal apologie from Captain, Station Manager, Service Manager (come up to ppl in the lounge or at gate and shake their hands). Often delays are not entirely an airlines fault and people will undertsand that, the human touch often makes the pill easier to swallow.

Experience: My worst experience was with UA (no surprise there) on a short hop from HKG to SIN. Boarded an hour late, taxied out and held short of runway, back to the gate, two hours on the ground (in the aircraft), taxied back out for another hour of holding and back to the gate. At this point the captian wanted to call it quits but the Station Manager clearly did not want to deal with a fully loaded 747. He plonked himself in F and stalled the deplaning. Finally after 7 hours passed departure time we were out of the plane and had to collect bags. At that time of day they had to scramble to get bagage handlers and immigration / customs personnel. Once out we made our own way up to departures and had to fight at CX desks ourselves for seats. The UA Station Manager only helped out 3 Global Services pax (they were put on SQ) but the rest of us got nothing. I called the UA service centre in the US to re-arrange my travel (they were very helpful). We did get 250USD in compensation in the post to be used for an UA flight, which was in turn very generous, but obviously I was not intending to fly them ever again.

How would I have liked UA to handle the situation? After one try they should have made a proper deliberation on wether to keep trying to fix the plane (think the issue was with engine power). At that time they could have accommodated pax on later evening flights, by trying to fix the issue they lost the cut off forcing everybody to stay overnight in HKG on the plane and in the end still take alternative airlines to SIN.

Another airline which is notoriously bad when it comes to Customer Service is EK. A friend flew EK in F from LGW-SYD and was delayed prior to landing in DXB (holding pattern). In the end diverted to Sharjah and on the ground for 3 hours. No food or beverages left. Once back in DXB there were reps and he was put on another flight to SYD which was due 5hr50 mins later and due to this he did not get a hotel as the cut off is 6 hrs (they ignored the fact he was on the road for around 16 hours in total). He was told he should be happy as he was the only one rebooked on an earlier service as he was flying F, the rest enroute to SYD got the original flight booked which was due to depart some 19hrs later and thus they got a hotel! No response to date from EK customer services, this was 2 months ago....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Aug 2012

Total posts 131

In my experience, VA was pretty bad with delays as well. My flight from SYD to BNE was delayed for over an hour and I had to get back to BNE urgently so I requested for the lounge staff to change me to another flight which shouldn't be too difficult.  They refused to change my flight and I was told to wait in the lounge as the delay was NORMAL. (Never had such problems with QF)

Does anyone know how the economics of delays and missed connections work, in particular when a connecting flight is operated by another airline that was not responsible for the innitial delay?

Who pays for new bookings etc?

KG
KG

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 736

The airline responsible for the delay will have to arrange alternative travel, however, this is only if you are booked on one ticket. if you have booked two eperate tickets, the airline only has to get you from a to b and not further. if you for instance fly SYD-HKG with QF and onwards with CX to LHR and bought this as one ticket and your QF flight is delayed causing you to miss the connections, QF will be responsible to get you to LHR. if however yooked that last segment yourself on a seperate ticket, there are no obligations for QF to get you to LHR. it is therefore always wise to leave ample time fconnections wen travelling on different tickets to avoid problems when delayed on earlier legs.

Thanks KG

So for example in the case MEL/LAX/DFW/EZE booked and ticketed on AA with MEL/LAX operated by QF with an AA code.

If MEL/LAX is delayed, which I notice occurs quite frequently, which airline would have to arrange alternative travel to EZE? AA by virtue of its code share as well as being the carrier that ticketed the booking? Or QF by virtue of operating the delayed service.

Logic tells me it will be AA. In which case, is there any compensation that AA can seek from QF? Is the relationship fair and equitable if one carrier has to constantly pick up the pieces for the other's shortcomings?

KG
KG

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2011

Total posts 736

TRB: As you said it would be AA as they used a codeshare on the first delayd flight (practically selling it as a flight of their own). Whether r not AA seeks compensation I would not know, I don't think so as AA codeshares on the flight and basically sold it to you as one of their own flights. If it was a QF flightnumber  (still sold to you by AA) I think they would get compensated, but I am not sure.

djb
djb

19 Dec 2011

Total posts 50

in answer to TheRealBabushka question: in our case cathay paid, in fact they actually gave us cash out of their petty cash to pay for the hotel & meals which came to about $450sing. And they were going to pay for 2 business class seats to perth on singapore airlines if they were available. Im sure the airlines must have some arrangements to help out with ticket at very special prices as they all need to call on each other to help out, otherwise those 2 business class oneway tickets singapore to perth would have to cost around $2000 each! 

Yes djb I agree.

I was once stranded at LAX due to QF's delayed arrival. With that delay and the unofficial go slow by AA pilots, I was going to miss my connections to LHR.

The AA agent secured me on a direct BA service LAX/LHR on Club World. The ticket was VERY reasonably priced!

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 125

I was booked on Thai BKK-PEK connecting onto Swiss F from PEK-ZRH-YUL.  The Thai flight was late arriving and I was met at the door by agents who had booked me on Air Canada PEK-YYZ-YUL.  When I complained that this was business instead of first, they changed it to Lufthansa F PEK-FRA-JFK and added on an American JFK-YUL.  Best of all, I was on an award ticket but the new flights credited as full F to my account!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

23 May 2012

Total posts 268

That's very good of Air Canada! The 10% is alright, especially that it is one of the only airlines that do it. I also think a Frequent Flyer option is needed.

16 Dec 2012

Total posts 3

The best recovery I've experienced was, surprisingly, with Delta.  It was a BKK-NRT-LAX flight.  The plane went mechanical at the gate.  There was a rush around by the ground agents to look after passengers.  It became clear that I would miss my NRT-LAX connection in NRT and thus one whole day in a five day US trip.  I asked very kindly that the agent asked if I could be put on another flight.  (Many passengers, mainly Americans, were being abusive).  She got me on CX to LAX.  I only made the gate for the CX BKK-HKG flight by 5 minutes.  All the agents, both CX and DL worked hard to make it happen.  I was a happy camper!

The bonus was getting the short transfer card in LAX for an onward connection which meant missing all the immigration lines and I wasn't even asked a question by the agent I got.

The worst experience I've had is with Air Pacific in Honiara - no plane showed up, there was no one in the airport to tell us anything.  I went into town to the Air Pacific agent and she rebooked me onto Solomons Airlines. 

The important thing is to take things into your own hands, push gently and politely.  if it doesn't work, then buy an alternative ticket and  claim on insurance (you do have a good policy, don't you?).   Don't be a silent victim.

velocity

05 Mar 2013

Total posts 1

In the good old days airlines had the staff numbers to handle delays effectively.  Then the public demanded cheap fares and staff numbers were cut and reservations went offshore.

Most of my experience was with SQ as an employee for 30 years until the mid-90's.  If a delay was known in advance, passengers were contacted.  The lead in time dictated the number of pax that were notified, starting with first class, then business class, medical cases and unaccompanied minors, FF by rank, and normal economy last.

A roster of city office staff known as TOST (town office support team) were despatched to handle pax at the airport and accompany them to hotels for lengthy delays.  Staff were given authority to do whatever was necessary to assist the pax.  (I remember having to get a pax methadone at 3am.)

If the delay was for more than six hours, policy was to try to get seats on other airlines.  Back them carriers had a program of Special Prorate Authorities which meant they agreed to carry each others pax at a low fare during flight disruptions.

Alas, times have changed.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 39

One word. Jetstar. How many times have I been delayed or left stranded by them. Worst was Hawaii coming home. Plane just did not turn up. No notice given at the airport. Not told why. Just the plane was not there. A Qantas plane ended up coming over empty to get us. Good thing was we got the full Qantas service (yes still on an old 767) but food and baggage etc and collected FF points to boot. Jetstar gave us a USD$15 for a one day delay. As it was a day time flight no offer of a hotel. Made it back to Sydney just in time to catch the last Melb flight. Friends who were booked to fly to Avalon were flown to Tulla and bused to Avalon to get their car. Alway say never again to Jetstar but here I go again next month back to Hawaii with them. This time out of Melbourne direct. Crossed fingers.

CL9
CL9

22 Mar 2012

Total posts 200

Interestingly, I have never once had been delayed or stranded by any means by Jetstar, and have found their ground staff fantastic!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Having suffered the occasional delay and forced overnight stay, I consider the key to avoiding frayed tempers is being honest, and making sure everyone knows what's going on, and ideally dealing with passengers by class of travel booked (and then by FF status). 

Worst experience ever had was on Qantas (no surprises there!). Qantas Group known for lacking communication skills, and treating pax as burdens.

I'd rather delays and cancellations be dealt with in a reasonable timeframe than be offered compensation. 


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on How should airlines manage flight delays?