A creeping delay can be a big problem for airline passengers. If you notice that your flight is being delayed incrementally and continuously then you are dealing with a creeping delay. You will want to take steps to avoid getting stuck if the delay turns into a cancellation.
What you need to do when dealing with a creeping delay:
Get some info
Away from the airport
Contact your airline for information about the delay. Check on their website to see if there are any travel advisories. Often times the airlines will offer alternate options without change fees when flights are delayed. You might be able to get rebooked and to your destination on an alternate routing. Be sure to ask about other airline options.
At The Airport
If you notice that your flight has been delayed several times then talk with the gate agent who is working the flight. They are surely in contact with the operations department and getting updates about the delay.
What To Ask:
- Why is the flight delayed?
- Approximately how long will the issue take to be resolved?
- Where is the flight crew? Inbound? Local?
- Is the crew in danger of going “illegal”
If the agent is able to offer clear answers and a definitive new departure time then you are likely in good shape. Obviously they will not be able to give definitive information about weather issues, and the information they pass on about maintenance will be approximate. If the agent is unable to give clear information then the flight will likely continue to be delayed. Lots of times there will be little of no good information. The plane or crew may be stuck in another city, maintenance may be trying to track down a hard to find part, or the weather may not be improving. “I don’t know” is not a great answer to hear from airline employees, but it may be the truth.
When the information is unclear or unavailable then it’s time to start looking for other options.
Always use protection
Protection is the term that airlines use for back up. If you are protected on a flight then you have been booked on a later flight in case that you miss your original or it gets canceled. If you are facing a creeping delay situation you will want to get protected. If the airline protects you on the next flight then you will have a confirmed seat on your original, and the next one. Protection does not affect your original reservation. Protecting a passenger is pretty easy for the gate agent to do as long as there are available seats on the next flight. The key is to get protected early. The longer a flight gets delayed the more people will be looking for alternate options. If you ask for protection too late then all of the seats on the next flight or two may already be filled up. Don’t miss your chance.
If the flight with a creeping delay is the last flight of the night, or the only flight of the day then the next protection will not be available until the next day, and in some cases may be a day or more later. You will still want to get protected on the next available flight to avoid a significant delay lasting more than a day. Remember, if your original flight still goes out then the protection has not affected your reservation and you can still board the original flight.
Look For Alternates
If your flight continues to be delayed then you may want to look for other options. Check with the airline to see if you can get rerouted to your destination. There may be connecting flights that will get you in before the delayed flight will. You should consider switching destinations if its reasonable, standing by on other flights, and even asking if you can be rebooked onto another airline. If the delay is significant enough then the airline may be willing to do any or all of these things to help you get out. Sometimes you will have no choice but to wait and hope for your flight to depart, but it won’t hurt to explore the options. If the creeping delay leads to an eventual cancellation then you could find yourself stuck in the airport for an extended period of time.
In my time as a gate agent I saw many creeping delays. Most of the delayed flights eventually get out on the same day they are scheduled, but I have also seen several that were canceled. The airline and its employees will almost never tell you that they intend to cancel a flight ahead of time, a cancellation is always the last resort. It is also unlikely that airline employees will advertise protection options. Most of the time there is limited protection available on other flights, they can’t offer it to everyone. The passengers who get protected are usually savvy travelers who know what could happen with their delayed flight. Those who act quickly will get the best options on other flights if a cancellation occurs.
ll you need to do is ask. If the flight cancels then everyone booked on that flight will be scrambling to get rebooked, and the seats on other flights will disappear quickly. Get ahead of all of those people and save yourself some hassle!
Get Some Compensation
Especially if the delay is caused by factors within the airline’s control. Maintenance, crew issues, and a few other factors are delays that the airline will issue compensation for. You could wind up with meal vouchers, upgraded seats, free drinks and entertainment on board, hotel accommodations, and even credit for later flights on the airline. Again, it is unlikely that the airline will make announcements about these things; you probably have to ask about getting some free stuff. Sometimes the airline will compensate you after your flight in the form of travel credit. You can contact the airline’s customer care department and tell them about your delay experience. You will also want to make sure that the airline has your email address. They will sometimes send out emails with instructions to claim compensation for your inconvenience.
Creeping or not, an airline delay is sure to be a pain in the ass. If you use the above information to be proactive when you are dealing with a delay then you will be sure to have a leg up on many of the other passengers who are also affected. As always make sure to be calm and courteous when talking with airline employees. They definitely want to get you to your destination as fast as possible. If you are cordial with them then they are more likely to help you out.