The holidays are fast approaching and although it’s the most wonderful time of the year, unexpected travel setbacks like canceled flights can really put a damper on your holiday cheer. Severe weather, flight delays and cancellations, airline crew situations, other unpredictable situations can leave you stuck at the airport and not celebrating with your loved ones. We’ve asked travel experts to share their best advice and strategies to reduce the chances your holiday flights will be canceled.
BE AN EARLY BIRD
It’s best to book the first flight out, especially during peak travel times. “Early morning flights have an on-time arrival rate that’s 25 percentage points higher than afternoon or evening flights,” says Katy Nastro, travel export with Going.com. “There's generally better weather in mornings versus afternoons and when you take that first flight of the day, your plane has been parked at the airport overnight; it’s ready to go.” Although you may moan about waking up before the sun rises, you’ll have a better chance of arriving at your destination. “Flying later in the day means you're waiting on a plane coming in from elsewhere, which can be delayed and will affect your plans,” adds Nastro.
CHOOSE DIRECT FLIGHTS
According to Nastro, it’s significantly more common to experience flight delays than it is to have cancellations. But delays have different outcomes depending on your itinerary, she says. “Say you've got a nonstop flight that becomes delayed by a few hours. This simply means you’ll arrive at your destination a few hours late,” she explains. “But, when you’ve got a connecting flight, a few hours’ worth of delays mean you risk missing your connection and facing what could be a lengthy wait (sometimes days) depending on rebooking availability.”
SKIP TIGHT CONNECTIONS
If you must connect because there aren’t direct flights to your destination or if the fares are too out of reach, think twice before booking a very tight connection. If you do miss your connection, you could have trouble re-booking due to flights being sold out or canceled due to increased holiday air traffic. “Because of all the delays, book at least an hour or more connection time. Flights do seem to be canceled more around the holidays because of staffing issues,” says Sue Martinez, travel advisor with AAA in Dayton, Ohio.
OPT FOR LAYOVERS IN CITIES WITH MILD CLIMATES
When your layover is unavoidable, but you have a choice of layover cities, here’s a tip especially relevant during the winter holidays: choose the layover city that is less likely to be impacted by severe weather, says Sally French, travel expert with NerdWallet. “While any city could be struck by abnormal weather, try to avoid airports that are more likely to get snowstorms if you have a choice between layover cities,” she says.
AVOID BUSY TRAVEL DAYS
According to French, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is historically one of the busiest days to fly in the whole year, and the day before Thanksgiving also draws huge crowds. “Understand the busiest days to fly around Thanksgiving and then book travel on a day that’s not one of those,” French suggests. “On busy days like the Sunday after Thanksgiving, flights tend to be completely sold out. If there is a cancellation that makes it tough to jump on another flight as you’re competing with far more passengers to get rebooked.” But, on the less-busy days, there’s typically more flexibility in terms of alternative flights—not to mention shorter lines at the customer service desk, French says.
UNDERSTAND YOUR RIGHTS IF YOUR FLIGHT IS CANCELED
While U.S. airlines aren’t required to compensate passengers for flight delays, says French, they are required to issue refunds for entirely-canceled flights. “Most airlines have online forms that make it easy to request one,” she says. That said, most U.S. airlines have pledged to provide additional services to customers affected by disrupted flights above and beyond the legal requirement and these pledges are documented in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s customer service dashboard, French said. Among them, she reports, every major U.S. airline will offer meal vouchers for delays or cancellations resulting in you waiting three hours or more.