A delayed flight can be a problem. The airlines get bad publicity because so many flights do not depart and arrive on time. In the U.S., the Department of Transportation keeps statistics and publishes them regularly. In Europe, there are strict new rules for compensation. This is making the problem better.
The vast majority of the time you won’t experience flight problems. For all of the publicity that airlines get, most of their flights get you where you want to go with very little delay. But problems can occur. You should be prepared and have a good idea what to expect when something does happen.
It won’t win you any sympathy with a frazzled airline agent if you yell and scream for compensation that is not due to you. On the other hand, you can and should be persistent in getting what you do deserve. Remember that those airlines agents really are trying to do their best to help you and everyone else who is in line with you. Let’s go over a few scenarios.
What will the airlines do for you if you have a delayed flight? It really depends on why it is delayed. If the flight problem is because of air-traffic delays due to congestion, most airlines won’t do much for you because they aren’t responsible for air traffic control delays (ATC delays).
If the delayed flight is because of weather… well, you’re all pretty much at the mercy of the weather including the airline. These situations are out of their control. They will try to get you on your way as best they can, but you won’t be compensated for these types of delays.
If your delayed flight is due to a problem that is in their control, the airline may be more accommodating. For instance, is there is a mechanical problem, or crew rest problems, or computer problems with check-in?
Mechanical problems are a safety issue, so you are in a grey area there. It pays to find out what your airline says it will do. Read its “contract of carriage” before you travel. This lists your rights for when you encounter a delayed flight.
The airline may get you on your way with only an hour or so delay, but what if you have a connecting flight… and you can’t make your connection? If you might miss your connections because of a delay at your initial airport, alert the gate agent. If there are a lot of passengers missing a connection, the airline may briefly hold a connecting flight for you…. but don’t count on this.
With airlines getting dinged for flight delays, they’d often rather leave a few passengers behind than report a late flight. If they can’t hold the connecting flight, ask the agent to rebook you for a new connecting flight. You can call the reservations number for your airline, and you may get rebooked faster than you can at the airport with all those other passengers waiting for help.
If your flight problem was a delay of the initial flight, and if the weather isn’t the issue, ask whether you can go on another flight or through a different hub. Should none of that work, and you miss the plane, alert an agent.
If a delayed flight made you miss your connection, the airline must put you on another flight, but it could be a while.