What to Do If Your Holiday Flight Is Delayed

Keep calm, and follow these steps.

Departure board
Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

After spending days packing, planning the perfect route to the airport, and making sure you have followed all TSA rules on holiday gifts, you arrive to your gate—only to find out your holiday flight is severely delayed.

The best made plans can still fall apart, and delays and cancelations are some of the most frustrating travel experiences. Despite how random flight delays can feel, there are some precautions travelers can take to avoid them, as well as some steps to take when it happens.

Choose your airline (and airport) wisely.

Not all carriers are created equal. Travel + Leisure compiled a few of the best and worst in both airlines and airports using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Salt Lake City (SLC), and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) had some of the best records for on-time departures, with all three seeing less than 15 percent of their flights being delayed. Both of Chicago's airports were some of the worst offenders concerning tardy flights, with one in three flights at Chicago’s Midway International Airport leaving late and more than one in four at O'Hare.

Hawaiian, Alaskan Air, Delta and Virgin are the best carriers for on-time departures, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Think about your timing.

Flying in the early morning or after 11 p.m. can increase the odds for an on-time departure, as you can avoid the congestion of peak hours.

While setting a 4:30 a.m. wake-up alarm can be excruciating, it's better than spending five hours at Hudson News.

If you are flying later in the day, allow adequate time for airport traffic and security: There isn't anything you do about a flight delay, but you can make sure you aren't late to the gate.

Track your flight painlessly.

If you haven't already, download your airline's app for official updates. But don't rely on the one app alone.

For a few dollars, travelers can download Flight+ that sends automatic alerts of delays, gate changes, and weather updates to your phone. It also has live flight boards for thousands of routes.

Other great flight-tracking apps include FlightAware, GateGuru, and Flightboard.

Know how to rebook.

If your flight is severely delayed or canceled, get on your way faster by calling the airline before or at the same time as you get in line for the ticket agent at the airport. While everyone else is spending valuable time waiting to talk to someone, you could book another flight and be able to head to your new gate.

And know that while the airline is in the business of getting you to your destination, being rude to the person helping you doesn't help anyone. Be nice, because the person you're talking to didn't cause the delay—but they can help you get around it.

Passengers can further speed up the process by using a website such as FlightStats.com which allows passengers to find alternative flights before they even call the airline.

Take a break if you're stuck.

If all else fails, try to make the time you have in the airport as relaxing as possible.

With the app LoungeBuddy, users can find free or pay-as-you-go airport lounges to check emails, have a snack, or even take a shower.

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