International Flight Cancellation? Help me prepare!
December 18, 2008 5:51 AM   Subscribe

What generally happens when an international flight is cancelled? (more inside) - other than the plane going nowhere!

I am flying from Washington, DC to Newark to Belfast tomorrow and am expecting that one or both legs of my flight will be cancelled due to snow in Newark. I may make it to Newark from DC, but beyond that, I don't know what to expect.

If my 9:30 p.m. flight to from Newark to Belfast is cancelled, how do they usually handle that? Would I have to wait until 9:30 the next day for another flight (assuming the weather is not still prohibitive)...or would they try to get my original flight out earlier than that (again, weather permitting). I am trying to prepare myself mentally for a long wait - but have never had this happen despite a fair amount of international travel.
posted by aelish to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The one time it happened to me (flying back to the UK from Florida via Gander which was completely inaccessible due to snow...!), we went straight to the airline desk and they booked us on a flight for the following day, but recommended we contact them before leaving for the airport to check that the flight was indeed going to depart. We asked for - and were given - vouchers for an overnight stay and food; this was just some rubbish charter company so I expect the big guns would have something similar in place.

The most important thing is not to panic, and don't lose your temper. Get yourself booked on another flight and make sure you have somewhere warm to stay, preferably on the airline's dime.

Have a good flight!
posted by highrise at 6:03 AM on December 18, 2008

I think it would depend on the airline you're flying. Ask them.
posted by amtho at 6:11 AM on December 18, 2008

Anecdote, but a few years ago I had a flight on Lufthansa from NYC that was delayed from 9 PM to 2:30 AM. It was their last scheduled flight out so they couldn't do much to rebook. They sent us all to a hotel and gave us rooms and dinner vouchers there. Then they rebooked my connecting flight in Germany onto another carrier.
posted by smackfu at 6:27 AM on December 18, 2008

The blog The Practical Nomad addressed this once.

And I suspect Patrick Smith's column Ask the Pilot at has looked into it, but my googling skills are failing me this morning. I cannot remember if this topic has been addressed specifically, but I believe it has, and in any event, the column makes for interesting and eye-opening reading on all things aviation.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:30 AM on December 18, 2008

I've had the same experience as highrise. A few times over, actually. Various countries, various companies, travelling various distances. Every time it's been the same. They'll book you on the next possible flight. If the flight is on the following day, they will put you up for the night and provide some food/vouchers for food.

I've never looked into it to see if airlines vary in this service because my experience has always been the same...
posted by slimepuppy at 6:32 AM on December 18, 2008

Search for the name(s) of the airline(s) you're using on The Consumerist to see if they're notorious for screwing the customer. You'd be surprised at how many of them don't do squat for you anymore. You may also want to contact the airline(s) directly via their Customer Support and ask them yourself. Take the rep's name, ID number, and make notes of the conversation. Record it if possible. Consumerist has instructions on how to do that too.
posted by ChazB at 6:57 AM on December 18, 2008

They'll book you on the next possible flight. If the flight is on the following day, they will put you up for the night and provide some food/vouchers for food.

This is not always the case. I have had several delays with my myriad of US flights (by which I mean the majority of as the system is shite), and they very much make a distinction between "Weather delays" and "Airline at fault delays". They have often (not just with me) only accepted liability for extra costs if the delays have demonstrably been their fault.

I was flying to Cali from Toronto. The first flight was delayed through weather issues. Consequently, I missed the connection. There was only one other plane I could connect on, but it was delayed coming into Denver (I think it was there) because of weather and the only option was the following morning.

At this stage, the airline were not willing to offer any compensation for my subsequent unplanned overnight hotel stay as the delay and the issue was out of their control - they can't predict the weather when you book. Annoying, buut kind of understandable.

Unfortunately for them, the plane coming in managed to make it (just) but was severely delayed. At this stage, the only available crew had insufficient flying hours available to them to get to San Diego and we were consequently unable to leave. At this point, the reverted their position because the reason I had to stay overnight in Denver was now because of crew issues, rather than weather (even though weather caused the crew issues).

Basically, it all depends why you were delayed whether you get compensation, especially now times are much harder for them, but in all cases they will try their best to get you on an alternative flight.
posted by Brockles at 6:59 AM on December 18, 2008

Back in the days of service, most airlines would push the vouchers and/or hotel rooms at you, apologizing profusely. These days, especially with US airlines, you seem to have to ask the gum-chewing, hair-twirling, couldnt-care-less agent while using varying levels of insistence until you find the magic amount of pressure.

I mean, they give you a nice safe airport to sleep in, right?

I wonder how many people simply don't know to ask. I imagine the savings are large, and this is part of some concerted plan like the removal of freaking pillows from airplanes. I'm sure that saved billions.

(That said, I don't know if any of that is required, or if it's just a common cs practice.)
posted by rokusan at 7:10 AM on December 18, 2008

Don't expect to get vouchers for anything on a weather delay, no matter how much "insistence" you use, especially if you don't have status in the airline's frequent flyer program. You might get a "distressed traveler" discount at a hotel, which isn't great.
posted by grouse at 7:22 AM on December 18, 2008

Nthing that times have changed, and they'll generally only put you up in the hotel if it's something like a mechanical failure. Weather? Not Their Problem.

Whether or not they'll delay the flight or cancel it will depend on how late it is, crew availability, fuel situation, air-traffic situation, forecast for the destination, etc. If they have to cancel, they'll try to rebook you on the next flight.

Bring a good book and some good snacks just in case. Bring an empty water bottle and refill it from the drinking fountains or taps in the bathroom so that you don't have to keep shelling out $4 for water.

If you do wind up being significantly inconvenienced (say, left on the tarmac with no food and little water with the engines turned off and thus no ventilation, in July, while they tried to figure out what end was up) or taking refuge in the airport hotel or making alternate travel arrangements on your own dime, or tortured by sadistic gate agents (okay, I've had a bad experience), there is not necessarily much that they'll do for you on site. However, calling the airline the next day and being polite and straightforward may get you some vouchers for future travel.
posted by desuetude at 7:32 AM on December 18, 2008

It depends on the airline. I had an Air China flight from JFK to Beijing which was canceled/delayed because of snow, and they gave us meal vouchers and a stay at a hotel (but not our luggage). Actually, there was a very upset crowd because the American citizens who were delayed got hotels, and the Chinese citizens did not.

posted by Comrade_robot at 7:53 AM on December 18, 2008

In my experience, airlines don't pay for you to stay in a hotel if your flight gets rescheduled to the next day, period. Don't waste time haggling over this -- you'll just lose their good will. (If I'm wrong and you do get a voucher then that's a bonus; don't expect it.) Focus on getting onto the soonest possible flight. This is just like a domestic situation: if you can't make the scheduled flight, you need to ask them to rebook you for a later flight. The fact that it's international doesn't really change things except that the wait might be longer.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:25 AM on December 18, 2008

Another anecdote: I was flying Air Canada from Heathrow to Toronto to Atlanta, and my flight was cancelled due to heavy snow in Toronto. They moved me to another flight. I ended up having to kill about 5 hours in Heathrow but aside from that it was fine.

This was several years ago, though, so YMMV. Good luck!
posted by oblique red at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2008

In my experience, airlines don't pay for you to stay in a hotel if your flight gets rescheduled to the next day, period.

They should if it's a mechanical. But don't expect it for the weather.
posted by grouse at 9:38 AM on December 18, 2008

They should if it's a mechanical. But don't expect it for the weather.

OK, so if things work how we expect them to and if the airline is totally honest about the real problem, you'll get a voucher. Unfortunately, you can't count on either of those things. So again, it amounts to: don't expect a voucher.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:39 AM on December 18, 2008

There are hotels all around Newark airport. Just book a room as a failsafe.
posted by Zambrano at 12:26 PM on December 18, 2008

The EU has specific requirements for compensation in relation to flights on an EU-based airline flying to an EU destination, so the airline you are on is very relevant.

I believe that if it's an EU airline, you are entitled to a refund/reroute at your choice, and to meals and accommodation while waiting for the reroute. If it's an American airline, I don't know if you're entitled to anything.
posted by jacalata at 3:50 PM on December 18, 2008

I had this in August, Canada to Amsterdam via Newark (Continental). Flight from Canada severely delayed due to Newark being closed due to bad weather. Airline rebooked us in anticipation of missing our flights before we left Canada. Those who missed their rebooked flights by the time we got to Newark were rebooked again, some on other airlines.

We were rerouted to Amsterdam via Paris and ended up getting in maybe 12 hours late but the process worked pretty smoothly.

You might have some queueing, but they will get you to where you want to go, eventually.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:04 PM on December 18, 2008

I think that if you're flying an EU based airline, you're entitled to a few hundred euros compensation plus overnight hotel if there's a delay. I don't think that this applies to American airlines flying into the EU though.
posted by atrazine at 9:29 PM on December 18, 2008

I think that if you're flying an EU based airline, you're entitled to a few hundred euros compensation plus overnight hotel if there's a delay.

Unless the delay is due to "extraordinary circumstances," which is poorly defined, but explicitly includes "meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned." So no compensation, but you should get a hotel if you have to stay overnight. If it's an EU carrier.
posted by grouse at 9:40 PM on December 18, 2008

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