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10 tips for dealing with flight delays and cancellations

10 practical tips to help you make the best of the situation if you flight gets delayed or, even worse, cancelled.

Surprise! Your flight just got delayed (or cancelled) and you will have to spend some extra time at the airport. It could snow. The airport may have to be evacuated over a suspect package. Of course, there many totally unpredictable circumstances that are totally out of your control. But there are some things that you can do to help the situation.

Here are our best 10 tips to help you kill time, make it better and, hopefully, get back home or to your holiday destination.

woman working on tablet in airport

1. Be early

In general, early morning flights suffer less delays and incidences than those that fly in the evening or at night. Also, make sure you turn up in plenty of time so if something does go awry, at least if you will have time to react and look for alternatives to get to your destination. And you’ll be at the front of the queue at the customer service desk. And if all is fine, you can use the time to do some work, clean up your inbox, or something equally exciting.

2. Know your rights

Ok, so there is a massive storm and it looks like you are not going to be flying in the next few hours, or maybe your flight is overbooked and you’ve been left at the airport. In cases such as these, it is vital that you know your rights. Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to claim what you deserve and hopefully find a solution to your problem with a few aces up your sleeve: from getting refunded for all your food and drinks expenses to getting a hotel or some alternative transportation.

3. Be mobile

We don’t just mean think on your feet, although a good level of fitness helps if you need to dash the length of Charles de Gaulle because you’ve turned up at the wrong terminal. Although you may want to leave your Blackberry behind as you escape on a digital detox, don’t pack away your phone your hold luggage – you may need it. Maybe you need to phone a friend to pick you up from the airport at 2am, or call or email the hotel in which you are, or were supposed to be staying , to say you’ll be arriving late, or to change your booking.

More: Top 20 best travel apps: recommended by Skyscanner

4. Be sure to be insured

Travel insurance is a guarantee that whatever trouble you might encounter it will be easier to solve. This ‘extra’ cost will prove a worthwhile investment if the unexpected happens. However, it’s a common holidaymaker mistake to not get insurance that covers every possible need or problem you might have.

Escalators, Shanghai airport

5. Explore the airport

Since you have some extra time on your hands, turn it into a positive: you’ve got time to explore the fascinating sights and attractions of the airport without worrying that about straying too far from the gates and departures boards. Firstly, there’s duty-free: when do you usually have the time to sniff and spray all the top-selling scents on the market? Sample extravagantly-priced tipples and invest in a bottle of something good for your drinks cabinet. And be forward-thinking: get stocked up on birthday presents: 400 Malboro for Auntie Jean…

More: 11 of the world’s craziest airport interiors – Big, beautiful, wierd, wonderful, futuristic and fun: a gallery of some of the world’s best, and the downright craziest-looking airports.

6. Make friends

Making friends is always good. And even more so if you bond over not being able to get back home or make it to your destination. On a practical level, you could save money by sharing costs, such as of a taxi into town. Also, be friendly to airport staff. Those poor, harassed souls on the customer service desk will be far more likely to help you if you adopt a pleasant manner, rather than losing your rag, which will get you nowhere, apart from YouTube.

7. Gatecrash the airport lounges

Those flying Business Class and the members of airline loyalty schemes will already be in the VIP room quaffing peanuts. With comfy sofas, newspapers and a range of salted snacks, these offer a far quieter and relaxed environment in which to pass the time than the rest of the airport. In some cases they are not exclusive and you can access them for a fee of around £20, which could be cheaper than forking out on food and drink in an airport bar.

8. Entertain yourself

Always carry with you something that helps you kill time: from a book (or an e-book reader, with lots of titles in its memory) to your laptop or a tablet loaded with films. That would be sensible. Or you could make it more fun by seeing how many of these 10 things you should never do at the airport you can do.

woman sleeping in airport

9. Sleep

In the severe case of a cancellation, you’ll be looking to kill a fair amount of time before you leave the airport. If you are not entitled to a night in a hotel near the airport, as you may just have relied upon your airline to fly you away, seek out a place where you can get some shut-eye. Prepare for such an eventuality by packing a sleep mask, earplugs and a light blanket in your hand luggage.

10. Eat and drink

Making a packed lunch doesn’t seem a very glamorous preparation for your holidays, but it could save your day if you’re delayed. There’s always the champagne and oyster bar if you want to pass the time in style, but do keep up your water intake. Dehydration is obviously going to make you feel worse later on in your journey, as will several hours in the airport bar, but if all else fails…

And if that doesn’t help, here are 20 of our top airport tips that might just help you on your travels and transit.

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