This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.
Flight delays aren’t fun for anybody: they can cause people to miss meetings, lose precious time on holidays, or miss out on valuable time with family when jetting home – but when a delay strikes, there are things you can do to minimise both the interruption, and any costs you might face.
Beyond a typical one-hour delay, here are five tips for handling more significant disruptions to your domestic and international travels, when your plans get pushed back by several hours or even overnight.
1. Never be afraid to ask for an earlier flight
While your options may be limited on international routes, domestic flights can run much more frequently, so if your journey ends up delayed, don’t be afraid to request an earlier flight: even if you’re booked onto the lowest-cost, non-flexible airfare.
That request can be made in the lounge or at an airport service desk when travelling with only cabin baggage, or at check-in when you’re lugging a suitcase along, but if many flights from that airport are delayed – thanks to bad weather, for example – those queues can get lengthy, so here’s what I do.
Assuming I’ve only got a cabin bag, I’ll take a quick look at the departures screen for any earlier flights to my destination, especially any that are already boarding, and will wander to one of those departure gates.
When the staff member manning the computer seems to have a spare moment, I’ll approach, and say something like this:
“Hi, I’m booked onto flight (123) to (destination) which just got delayed by (X) hours. I’ve only got cabin baggage: any chance I could squeeze onto this flight if there’s room? I don’t mind if the seat is bad!”
I never expect to be moved just because a seat is free, but have never had that request denied at the gate – even when a flight is on final call – although it generally means giving up my prized 4A for something like 27E.
End result: I’m home or onto my next meeting closer to the time I’d originally planned, the airline fills a seat that was about to fly empty and the seat on my original flight is released for a last-minute booking or for somebody else to be moved forward from an even later flight, so it’s a win all around.
2. Can’t get home earlier? See what your airline will cover
Depending on your airline and the delay, you could be provided with nothing at all; may be eligible for a meal voucher to spend at the airport; or may even get overnight accommodation – so talk to your airline and see what they’ll provide.
Even if your travel insurance covers flight delays and disruptions, many insurers insist that you contact your airline for redress before submitting a claim: after all, if your airline was willing to pay for a hotel but you went and booked your own, for example, that’s not an expense many insurers would reimburse.
When you do incur out-of-pocket expenses beyond those covered by the airline, such as for meals, hotels, transfers, phone calls and other costs relating to your delay, be sure to keep all receipts to help substantiate a later claim, and ask your airline for an ‘insurance letter’, which sets out the basic details of the delay.
3. Priority Pass can come in handy
During significant delays it’s common for airline lounges to get crowded, so even though your business class ticket or frequent flyer status gets you in there, a Priority Pass card could be your ticket to a quieter lounge elsewhere at the airport, or to a free meal at an airport restaurant.
When flying through Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, passengers departing from Terminals 1, 2 and 3 have no fewer than nine airside Priority Pass lounges to choose from: while at Sydney Airport, travellers have multiple restaurants options in each terminal, where one ‘lounge visit’ processed to your Priority Pass account unlocks $36 of food and drink.
Keep in mind that if yours is an unlimited (Prestige) membership, there’s nothing stopping you from visiting more than one lounge or restaurant before a flight, as long as you have a valid boarding pass to present with each swipe.
For instance, a Qantas domestic passenger flying through Sydney Airport might arrive around lunchtime for a mid-afternoon flight: using Priority Pass for a bite before heading to the Qantas lounge to await boarding, but if there’s a long delay, could then venture to a different Priority Pass restaurant for dinner, before eventually boarding their flight.
Some Priority Pass lounges also have time limits – 3-4 hours is a common benchmark – so at airports like Singapore which have plenty of lounges to choose from during a longer delay, you could move from one to the next courtesy of that unlimited membership, without incurring any additional costs.
4. Check your eligibility for ‘EU261’ compensation
If you’re flying to, from, or within Europe (currently including London and the UK), you may be entitled to claim compensation when your journey is delayed by just two hours or more. Here’s a brief outline:
- Flights under 1,500km: €250 (A$400) compensation for a delay of two hours or more.
- Intra-EU flights over 1,500km: €400 (A$639) compensation for a delay of three hours or more.
- Non-EU flights 1,501km to 3,499km: also €400, when delayed by 3+ hours.
- Non-EU flights over 3,500km: €600 (A$960) compensation when delayed by four hours or more.
Eligibility can vary depending on the airline and flight you originally booked – Qantas’ flights from London to Singapore and Perth are covered, but the Roo’s flights to London from the same cities are not – so for the full details, read our detailed guide.
5. Hold onto your boarding passes and e-tickets
Once you’ve finally reached your destination, be sure to grab your boarding pass from the seat pocket: not only does this help with any later ‘missing points’ claims if your rewards don’t arrive as expected, but travel insurers may ask for copies when considering your claim.
On overseas trips, this is especially true of not only your delayed flight, but also your international departing flight from Australia at the beginning of that trip, as well as your international returning flight to Australia at the end.
These are important because they help prove how long you were out of the country for, which can affect cover under some policies (some insurers only cover trips of 14 or 30 days, for example, so in those cases, longer journeys may not be covered).
As a rule, I simply keep all of my boarding passes until I’ve returned home from every trip, any expected frequent flyer points have been credited correctly, and if applicable, any insurance claims have been finalised.