How to book a flight that won’t (likely) be cancelled

Flight delays and cancellations are uncomfortably common these days. In fact, the rate of on-time arrivals in 2022 at US airports has not been the lowest since 2014, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

For the period between January and April 2022, only 76% of non-stop domestic flights arrived on time, according to BTS. Meanwhile, around 20% of flights were delayed (also a high not seen since 2014) and 4% were canceled entirely. For comparison, 87% of flights arrived on time in the same period last year and less than 2% of flights were cancelled.

So how do you improve your chances of traveling on one of the three quarters of flights that arrive on time? And why are flight delays and cancellations so common?

Why are so many flights cancelled?

There are a number of reasons why flights are being cancelled, and there’s also a lot of finger pointing at the moment.

Contributing factors include:

  • Airline problems, such as understaffing. Mechanical issues and delays can be exacerbated by staff shortages.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration also has staffing problems. While a shortage isn’t to blame, the agency still manages backups to train new air traffic controllers quickly enough. About 5% of delays are due to National Aviation System delays such as: B. high traffic volume or challenges in air traffic control.
  • Weather. This problem is minor; Weather delays have accounted for less than 1% of late arrivals so far this year.
  • Increased travel demand. If an aircraft had previously flown two flights a day with a six-hour buffer between flights, the second flight would not be affected even if the first flight was delayed by three hours. Now, when that same plane has increased its flight numbers to three a day with less downtime, even a short delay can severely impact future flights.

This will improve your chances of avoiding flight cancellations

Find out which airlines are actually arriving on schedule

While past performance does not guarantee future performance, it is at least a good indicator. NerdWallet analyzed BTS arrival data between January and April 2022 for the 10 largest US airlines by passenger miles to determine each airline’s on-time arrival rate.

If punctuality is a priority, consider booking Delta or Hawaiian, which arrived on time 82% of the time. Skip JetBlue, which only landed on schedule 60% of the time.

Airline Issues – meaning the issue was due to circumstances within the airline’s control such as: Things like maintenance, cleaning, luggage loading or fueling delays – were the main cause of late arrivals in the first four months of 2022, accounting for almost 8% of delays.

Book the earliest flight of the day

The second most common cause of delays: The plane arrived late from the previous destination. Almost 7% of flights in the first four months of 2022 were delayed for this reason.

It is not uncommon for planes to have made a few trips earlier in the day for an evening flight. If any of the earlier flights were delayed, there would likely be a snowball effect.

For example, the first flight of the day’s aircraft might have been fine, but if the second flight had maintenance issues and was delayed, the third flight would likely be behind schedule, which in turn could affect all subsequent flights. You can try to avoid the snowball effect by booking the first flight of the day.

Avoid stopovers

Unfortunately, it doesn’t do you much good if the first leg of your flight arrives on time if the second leg is delayed. Who wants to twiddle their thumbs in a city in between or an airport?

It may be even worse if the second leg of your trip departs on time but you miss it because your arriving flight was delayed.

Mitigate this risk by booking non-stop flights. Even if the airfare is more expensive, it might be worth avoiding the headache of missing a connecting flight.

When a stopover is unavoidable, it is almost always better to book the entire journey with the same airline on a single itinerary, rather than booking with separate airlines for each leg of the journey. This way, if your first flight is delayed, the airline can work with you to adjust your connecting flight, assuming the delay was their fault. If you book the two legs of your trip with different airlines, you probably won’t get that kind of consideration.

Choose an airline with multiple flights per day

If your flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you on their next flight with available space at no additional cost, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. If your airline operates multiple flights per day on the same route, you may only have to wait a few hours. Sure, having to catch a later flight would be annoying, but it probably wouldn’t ruin your trip.

For example, let’s say you fly from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a route that United typically flies four times a day. But you opt for JetBlue, which usually only flies this route twice a day. If your ticket is for the only afternoon flight — and it’s then canceled — there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get to Vegas that day, period.

And no, you probably won’t be able to convince JetBlue to pay for any of United’s remaining flights, since there are no federal regulations requiring airlines to put you on another airline’s flight or refund you for another airline’s tickets .

What to do after booking?

Even if you follow our advice to reduce the likelihood of a flight cancellation (let’s say by booking the first non-stop flight of the day with Delta — one of the most punctual airlines), you could still be out of luck. These next steps might save you some headaches:

Check your flight status

To be kept informed, you agree to receive flight status updates via email, SMS or push notification, a feature of some airline apps. Or simply enter your flight number into a search engine to get real-time flight details.

If your flight is cancelled, you may decide that you’d rather stay and book a new flight from home rather than doing so at the airport. If your flight is delayed, you can simply drive to the airport at a more leisurely pace. Just be sure to keep an eye on the flight status, as sometimes a flight marked as delayed can be back on time.

Don’t pack checked baggage (but pack your patience)

If your original flight is canceled and you need to book another airline’s last-minute flight, it can be difficult to retrieve a suitcase that is still in the hands of the first airline. Traveling with carry-on baggage allows you to move more nimbly between flights.

There’s one thing you can pack that won’t take up luggage space: patience. The gate agent is unlikely to be responsible for the delay, so be friendly – and they may be more likely to help you book another flight.

Also, consider joining an airport lounge membership program like Priority Pass. (Sometimes membership is free with certain credit cards.) Lounge amenities — which sometimes include luxuries like sleeper suites, peloton bikes, showers, and buffets — can usually make a long delay easier to endure.

Understand your rights

If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you know what compensation you are entitled to. Unfortunately, it’s not much when it comes to lag; There are no federal laws requiring airlines to compensate passengers for delayed flights.

Some airlines offer meal vouchers or hotels to stranded passengers, but that’s unusual for low-cost airlines. Airlines are not required to reimburse you for non-flight expenses such as a prepaid hotel room or a missed cruise departure.

For canceled flights where you decide not to rebook on another flight, you are entitled to a refund of the fare even if you have purchased non-refundable tickets.

Do you have a backup plan

Since airlines aren’t legally required to do much to help you, understand how you can help yourself.

  • Plan nearby airports or alternative transportation: For example, if your domestic flight from Burbank to Oakland, California is cancelled, you may be able to hail a cab to the Los Angeles or Long Beach airport and catch another flight. Look beyond airports too; You could give up flying altogether and hop on a train northbound.
  • Book Refundable Trips: You may be able to book a refundable ticket if you’re willing to pay an extra fee. Otherwise, as long as you’re booking a non-Basic Economy fare, you’re likely to at least get a voucher to use on another flight with the airline if you decide to change or cancel the flight due to itinerary changes.
  • Consider travel insurance: Travel insurance, which can be purchased separately with your flight (and is sometimes offered as a benefit with certain credit cards), can help you recover money if a trip is canceled or delayed. It can also fund expenses incurred due to delays, such as B. an additional hotel night. This can be helpful if, for example, a hurricane prevents you from flying home from your Caribbean vacation and forces you to book an extra night at your resort. Read the fine print, as many policies rule out airline delays.

The final result

On-time arrival rates haven’t been this bad since 2014. If you don’t have a crystal ball, you can’t guarantee that you won’t book a delayed flight. But even without one, a thoughtful booking strategy can better ensure you get to your destination on time.

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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: sfrench@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SAFmedia.

The article How to book a flight that won’t (probably) be canceled originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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