Last Monday, Rob and I had an awful flight from Sydney to New York.
The journey, which was supposed to be a fairly straightforward 20 hours of travel time ended up taking 31 hours – 12 of which were spent in airports and 19 of which were on board an aircraft.
Our initial flight from Sydney went reasonably smoothly, the only issue was that I managed to come down with a virus en-route. When we boarded I was feeling mostly fine, but 6 hours in to the 14 hour flight, I’d come down with a runny nose, fever, and headache. It was far from the ideal time to get sick.
We touched down in Los Angeles at 7:00 AM and tiredly made our way through immigration and customs before heading to the gate for our 8:25 AM flight to New York.
I wasn’t feeling fantastic, but I’d decided that I could push through the remainder of the flight. We were due to arrive in New York late afternoon, so my plan was to beeline directly to the pharmacy once we landed and dose myself up on cold and flu medication.
Just after we’d passed through customs, we were advised that our flight had been delayed to 10:00AM due to mechanical issues. It was no biggie – the flight would still get us in to NYC by early evening.
As we sat at the gate and waited, the flight delay was extended. Soon it was pushed back to 11:00 AM, then as 11:00 AM came and went, we received a notification that the flight had now been changed to 8:30 PM – 9 and a half hours later. The flight would get us into NYC at the truly wonderful time of around 4:00 AM.
Sleep-deprived and sick, I decided that there was no way in hell we would wait around for that flight. Along with most of the other passengers, we attempted to distribute ourselves on to any available seats on other Delta flights to New York that day.
I called Delta’s customer service line while we were sitting at the gate and explained the situation, and the lovely lady on the other end of line expressed genuine sympathy that we’d just disembarked a long-haul flight from Australia and were now stuck in LAX. After a few minutes of searching alternate options, she managed to secure us the last 2 seats on the 4:05 PM flight to New York.
Some of the other passengers tried applying for standby tickets on earlier flights, and a few managed to grab a few scattered seats throughout the day.
It was a long wait in one of LAX’s most bland and boring terminals (damn you, Terminal 6). When our new flight time came around, we were met with yet another half hour delay, then eventually we boarded our flight to New York. There were a few familiar faces on the flight, including one Australian man who had been with us all the way from Sydney.
We later found out that we had made the right choice – the original flight ended up being cancelled altogether, so if we hadn’t made it on to the afternoon flight, we probably would have been stuck in LA overnight or would have had to take a red-eye (not an ideal option when you’re sick).
At 1:00 AM, we were relieved to finally land at our destination, only to find that both of our checked-in backpacks did not accompany us on our new flight. Rob went into the missing baggage desk to sort it out, and we saw that our Australian friend was also in there minus his bags. Not a good day for us Aussies.
I was eager to get to a pharmacy, but it had to wait until morning. We jumped in a taxi and finally collapsed on our bed at 2:30 AM.
Delta handled the missing baggage like pros. They transported our backpacks on the red-eye flight to New York and delivered to our door at 8:50 AM the next morning (the buzzer waking us from our death-like slumber).
It took 2-3 days of doing nothing but laying on the couch watching Netflix documentaries for me to feel somewhat normal again. Let me tell you, jet lag + a virus is an awful combination as my body wasn’t able to get the proper sleep it required to recover.
It wasn’t as bad as our worst flight ever, but it certainly wasn’t a pleasant one. This time, though, the airline came through for us. Delta staff tried to help us every step of the way. The airline even sent each of the passengers 15,000 bonus miles as compensation for the cancelled flight, and they gave us an extra $400 of flight credits when I called the customer service line from the airport.
Most airlines aren’t required to give you compensation for delayed or cancelled flights, but depending on the circumstances, you might be able to get a few freebies – here’s how to take advantage of flight delays and cancellations!
Flight time changes or delays under 90 minutes:
You will usually be advised of time changes via email in the lead up to the day of your flight. Small changes like this happen fairly often.
If the delay stuffs up your plans somehow, you could try calling the airline and explaining the situation. They might be nice and change your flight, but then again they might not.
If you’re already at the airport and your flight gets delayed, you’re in a similar situation as above. Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do except wait.
Flight time changes over 90 minutes:
If you’ve received a flight time change of over 90 minutes via email, you aren’t necessarily stuck with your new flight time.
Most airlines will allow you to call the customer service number and request a different flight for the same route without having to pay a change fee, as long as it’s within a reasonable timeframe of the original flight.
Flight delays over 90 minutes:
If you’re already at the airport and your flight gets delayed over 90 minutes, you’re in a similar situation as above. This is what happened in my case – as our flight was delayed by 12 hours, I asked them to put us on an earlier flight. This change was completely free of charge.
Depending on how long you’ll be stuck in the airport, you might be eligible for meal vouchers. Not all airlines will do this, but some will hand out vouchers if you’re going to be there for a while.
If the delay is significant (like mine was), then you might also get offered some compensation from the airline like bonus miles or flight credits. Check the airline’s booking terms and conditions, and if there’s nothing in there, ask a customer service rep if there’s any compensation you can get for the inconvenience. Again, they don’t have to give you anything, but it’s always worth asking.
Flight cancellations with prior notice:
If your flight gets cancelled in advance, the airline will normally bump you on to another flight. You should be in the same situation as a 90 minute time change/delay – if you’re not happy with your new flight, you should be able to call the airline and request a different flight without having to pay change fees.
Flight cancellations without notice:
If you’re already at the airport and your flight gets cancelled entirely, you should be in a similar situation as above, but this time you have a few more options:
If the airline can’t get you on to another flight in a reasonable timeframe, then you might be able to book a flight with a different airline and then request a refund for your unused flight. This is what happened to Rob and I with Fiji Airways when they didn’t help us get an onward flight to Mexico City.
If you end up being stranded somewhere overnight, some airlines will give you a hotel voucher. This is up to the airline, but is always worth asking for. If they don’t give you a voucher, then your travel insurance should cover the costs of an overnight stay.
There are certain situations when airlines are required to give you monetary compensation if you request it, but the rules can be tricky to navigate and it might take months of emails and phone calls to get anything back. I personally think that it might be easier to just accept some flight credits or bonus miles if they’re offered to you instead of going down this path.
Also keep in mind that if you’ve bought a discount ticket on a budget airline, you’ll be less likely to get anything at all as the tickets are much more restrictive and customer service is usually awful. Full service airlines, especially ones that do long-haul international flights, are more likely to be lenient.