You prepare for weeks, nay, months, for that special day. You get up at 4am to get to the airport, after barely getting any sleep the night before, worrying whether or not you’ve packed your phone charger. You’ve done breakfast, grabbed a coffee and are in the queue promptly, ready to drop your luggage off and chill in the departure lounge for the next couple of hours. You’ve done everything right… but your flight is delayed.
I haven’t been on many flights that have left bang on time. In fact, there’s almost always a 20, 30-minute delay, sometimes up to an hour if we’re unlucky. But I’ve never been really delayed. That was, until I flew to Toronto earlier this year, when my flight got pushed back by 16 hideous hours. And while I admit it wasn’t pleasant spending innumerable hours in Gatwick’s South Terminal, I did learn a lot about what to do when it happens to you. So, if you ever find yourself in the same position (and I hope for your sake you never do), here’s what you need to know:
When that dreaded announcement comes, it’s easy to start panicking about what to do next. My advice? Just relax. It’s hard for control freaks like me to admit this, but this situation is completely out of your hands; there’s nothing you can do about it. Just wait for updates from the staff on the ground and try to be polite – after all, it’s not directly their fault, so taking out your frustrations on some poor person behind the check-in desk won’t do anyone any good.
Contact your hotel
When your flight is delayed, of course that immediately impacts your time in-destination. It also means that there’s a strong possibility you could miss a night in your hotel. We had this problem; we were meant to fly at midday, land at 3pm and check-in to our hotel around 4pm. Instead, we flew at 4.30am the following day, landed at 7.30am and reached our hotel around 8.30am local time. We’d essentially missed a whole night.
If you can, it’s worth contacting the hotel you’re meant to be staying at for two reasons: a) so they know not to expect you that evening and don’t charge you any no-show fees and b) if you’re booked into a really lovely hotel like the one we stayed at (the Omni King Edward in Toronto), they might even give you some money back.
Indulge in all the free food and accommodation
If you’re flying with an EU-based airline, or departing from an EU airport, by law your meals and any accommodation should be paid for by the airline. In our case, we got breakfast vouchers, lunch vouchers, a buffet dinner at our hotel for the night, and a voucher for more snacks before we eventually took off. I wasn’t even that hungry, but I still took (and ate) everything that was offered. Because, well, why not? Non-EU airlines should also offer a refund or put you onto an alternative flight, although it’s possible you won’t get any food and drink. Check your travel insurance though, as you may be able to claim subsistence expenses this way instead.
Before Brexit happens, you can still exercise your EU right to receive compensation for any extreme flight delays – provided the circumstances of the delay aren’t ‘extraordinary’. This legal entitlement, under EC Regulation 261/2004, is available if you’re flying to or from any EU airport, and are delayed for three hours or more. The duration of your delay, and distance of your destination, all have bearing on how much you can claim, but this can be as much as €600pp.
Remember you’re not alone
Yes it’s frustrating, yes it feels unfair, but – as they say – misery loves company, and you’ll have plenty of it in this scenario; somewhere between 300 and 800 people are going to be as fed up as you are. Embrace the camaraderie, and pray to the travel gods that your flight takes off soon.
For more advice on travel, check out the dedicated Before You Fly section of our website.