Managing Flight Delays and Cancellations

I thought I would share my thinking process for a delayed flight this morning, how I kept abreast of flight status, and how I made a decision to change flights.

Some of y’all are going to find this to be a rather pedantic post. If you’re an expert, feel free to skip this post. There wasn’t any great jeopardy involved, it’s about a simple domestic trip. Hopefully some might find the thinking process I used useful.

Flying today I had a planned 55 minute connection in Dallas.

  1. I got an email that my outbound flight was delayed 17 minutes, giving me a 38 minute connection.

  2. I looked up my flight on FlightAware. I used that site to “Track Inbound Flight” to see the status of the flight that was on its way to DC that was expected to be used for my flight. I saw that it was coming in from Dallas, and it showed a delay of 30 minutes.

  3. I checked the anticipated arrival gate and departure gate of my connecting flights. Coming into A terminal, departing from C terminal, I would have to take the trains but the two terminals are next to each other. Minimum connecting time for American domestic flights is 40 minutes, but this still looked fine. At that point — nothing to do.

  4. The aircraft I’d be flying on hadn’t taken off from Dallas, though, so I refreshed my tracking of that flight a few times until it was in the air. While it pushed back based on its delayed plan, it took about 25 minutes to taxi and take off and was a bit further behind.

  5. American had not updated my departure time, but the inbound aircraft was now expected to arrive in DC ten minutes later. Sure, that could change, it could make up time. But the new implication was that they would have to do a 20 minute turn (deplane the aircraft, clean it, and board the aircraft and then push back) in order to stay on the revised schedule. I was now estimating I would actually have a 28 minute connection in Dallas, including change of terminals.

  6. That’s actually doable, I was in first class on my flight to Dallas so would be among the first off the plane. Certainly I could make it to my connecting flight in 18 minutes (before the doors close on my onward connection). But what was my contingency if that didn’t work out?

    • I saw that there was a seat for sale on the next connecting fight an hour later — but there were no extras. (American inventory can be tough to search for, I use the KVS Tool mostly but it is searchable on as well — both paid services.) I could get American to switch me now, or I could try to make my connection.

    • If I made my connection, as the last passenger on, I might have to gate check my bag. I’d have to run through the Dallas airport, and would lose a little time on the ground in Austin anyway.

    • If I did not make my connection, there might not be any seats left available on the next connecting flight.

  7. So I decided to get myself switched over to the next connecting flight now, likely giving myself an hour and 28 minutes in Dallas but making it much more likely I’d get in only an hour late rather than delayed even further. I gave American a call, they put me on the next connecting flight. At first they only saw space for the flight after the one I wanted, but when I told them the flight number and time of what I was looking at, and that it was available, they found it and made the change.

Ultimately not a big deal at all, I should be delayed by just one hour. I didn’t want to chance missing my connection and being even further delayed if the next flight no longer had space (though as an Executive Platinum I might still stand a decent chance as a standby, getting on the flight earlier would give me a better shot of clearing the upgrade as well).

Since little jeopardy was at stake, maybe not too many lessons here, but I think it’s worth highlighting:

  • Using FlightAware or similar service to know where your aircraft is coming from and what its status is.
  • Knowing available flights you could switch to and what kind of space is open on those flights. For airlines other than American, I like the free FlightStats website.
  • Making a judgment about costs and benefits and being proactive in getting moved to alternate flights — planning for delays rather than letting delays overtake you.

What tools do you use to track and manage the vagaries of flight delays or cancellations?

    You can join the 30,000+ people who see these deals and analysis every day — sign up to receive posts by email (just one e-mail per day) or subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s free. Don’t miss out!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Why not ask to be protected on the later flight, rather than asking to be switched? That way, you can still try for the original flight, but still be OK if you miss it.

  2. I actually just use United’s mobile tool. It lets you check incoming flight with one click and also maps the location of an active flight.

    Also, another factor I use in deciding whether to take a later flight is whether the airport has a lounge I have access to. If so I’ll more likely to opt to just chill there rather than worrying about whether I can make a tight connection.

  3. @Rob – I have been protected on AA flights several times before but it is actually not something AA agents are supposed to do, since it was just an hour later I didn’t sweat asking for it.

  4. @JohnBom – post written while waiting for my delayed outbound, “TBD” but looks like I’d have misconnected.

  5. Gary, do you know any websites that have the same informations as FlightAware but cover other parts of the world? I tried searching flights in Brazil, but the website only displayed basic information.

  6. I prefer to be protected on the later flight but retain my original reservation, especially if I’ve been upgraded. The flight could make up time in the air or the original connecting flight might be delayed. Once you have switched you would lose your original seat and your upgrade, so if you can make the connection you may be out of luck or in a worse seat.

  7. I assume that these changes are easier/free if you have elite status, but for mere mortals, would it be as easy as calling to switch flights?

  8. @David – during irregular operations it should be pretty easy, especially when a delay means you have less than the minimum connecting time to change planes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *