Flight delays and cancellations are becoming a more common part of air travel than ever. Over Memorial Day weekend alone, U.S. carriers canceled more than 2,500 flights. With the world largely moving forward from the pandemic, the airline industry remains stuck behind. In the process, it's leaving many travelers stranded.
As business meetings, events and conferences are transitioning back to in-person, the demand for air travel is high--and so are the stakes riding on each flight. Your trip could be the last step in forming a key partnership, or even securing millions in funding. When a missed flight means missed opportunities, it's critical to choose one that will actually take off rather than get stuck waiting at the gate.
Granted, deciphering between your numerous options is a challenge. While United is making strides to change air travel as we know it, Southwest has dropped from being one of the most reliable airlines to one of the least. Since every flight you consider booking presents a differing risk level, there are a number of strategies you can borrow from frequent flyers to help reduce the risk of long delays or cancellations.
1. Choose Major Airport Hubs
To decrease your odds of an overly delayed or canceled flight, it can be worth bypassing your local airport. Instead, choose your nearest major airport. What it lacks in convenience, it can save you when it comes to on-time departures and getting to where you want to go. The reason being, many of the major airports operate as hubs for airlines, meaning that the airline is more likely to have planes and staff more readily available.
2. Book Direct Flights
Direct flights are the gold standard when booking. Yet, they're often not the most affordable option, which might cause you to endure a short layover for its cost-saving benefit. However, every additional flight you take increases your risk of a delay or cancellation. And one delayed flight can cause you to miss your connection, so save yourself the headache by opting for the direct flight when possible.
3. When Traveling Overseas and Direct Isn't Possible, Take an International Layover
In the instances where you are traveling long haul to a foreign country and a direct flight isn't an option, choose the layover that is abroad. Flights traveling internationally generally get precedence over domestic flights, so should there be a weather issue, the international flights will typically be prioritized and will be able to leave before the domestic flights. For example, say you're flying to Greece. One flight connects in Newark, New Jersey and another in Amsterdam. Choose the latter.
4. Skip Flights That Don't Offer Business Class (or Higher)
Not all domestic carriers offer business class seats, yet no matter which fare class you're looking to buy, you might want to look for flights that do have business or first class to help reduce the risk of cancellations. Business- and first-class customers are paying a much higher rate and are often travelers who fly much more frequently--putting airlines under more pressure to deliver.
5. Choose Airlines With Multiple Routes
In the instance that your flight does get overly delayed or canceled, major airlines often offer multiple flight options per day, enabling you to either move to a different flight or reroute. So even if your carrier doesn't offer your same exactly flight at a different time, it might be able to still get you to your destination by rerouting you.
6. Forgo the Last Flight of the Day
Speaking of getting bumped to a different flight, try to avoid booking the airline's last flight of the day (in some cases, the red eye). It's appealing, but taking the last flight can mean that if the flight is canceled or delayed, you're stuck waiting until the next flight, which means waiting until the following day.
Delays and cancellations are an inherent risk of air travel. If you are traveling for a specific meeting or event, it's wise to add a 24 to 48-hour buffer so that you arrive at least a day before the event--giving you plenty of time should you experience delays or cancellations. And do always book directly with the airline rather than through a third-party site so you have more control and available help if needed.