When do you go to the airport when your flight is delayed?

On Tuesday, I was supposed to fly to San Jose for a bunch of meetings. Typically, I was flying American, going through DFW. As I was getting ready to leave the house, my husband said, “Oh wow, there are tornado warnings in Dallas.” Sure enough, here is what happened in the Dallas area that day:

Luckily, despite lots of damage and some injuries, no one was killed. But it sure did make for a chaotic day! And having the major American Airlines hub out of commission made things nuts for travelers that day. Over a thousand people were stranded at the airport. Hundreds of flights were cancelled. Other flights were diverted. Several flights landed at my own airport, and people were then bussed up to Dallas. Of course, my flights were cancelled, as was everything going to Dallas for the rest of the day. I have never seen such long lines at the ticket counters. But I digress.

While still at home, I found out my flight was an hour delayed. So I stayed home for an extra hour. The Home Warrior, who is by nature a very cautious guy (remember, he likes to pack for every possibly scenario whenever we go on vacation. Don’t forget the fan!) was concerned that they would change the time again and I would miss my flight. I figured if there were tornadoes, there was no way my flight was going to leave any earlier, and would probably get cancelled, so I wanted to stay at home as long as I could (of course, I ended up being right). He suggested I ask my readers what they do in this situation.

So here is my question. Readers, if you find out your flight is delayed, do you head for the airport assuming your flight will leave on time, just in case? Or do you go later? Also, did anyone get stuck at DFW?

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  1. i’d stay where i am. it’s rare for flights to get moved UP after a delayed notice has been posted.

    i had a flight coming back from chicago one evening, and i kept getting notices on my phone how the flight was delayed half an hour at a time. since i was out at dinner with a co-worker, we just stayed at the restaurant an extra hour (enough time for wine and dessert!) before i headed to ORD. i still had to wait another hour and a half before we got a plane. no point being stuck at the airport the entire time with all the other disgruntled travelers.

  2. I favor a compromise. There are too many times where a flight gets moved back up to an earlier time (maybe not “on time”). Therefore, I may slow down my journey to the airport but at least continue to head that direction so that I can adjust to a changing situation. The other thing I’ll do is call the airline FF desk and ask for a seat assignment on another flight in advance should the delayed flight be set back even later than the next flight out of town (this is much more common than flights being moved up in time).

  3. I usually wait to go to the airport but recently on a Jetblue flight from BOS-DCA I came within a few minutes of missing my flight when the flight was undelayed. First time I have ever seen a flight moved up after a delay was announced.

  4. My choice is still to arrive at the airport in time for my original flight. Airlines will tell you that in the event of an aircraft swap or other change the delay can be significantly reduced. If you’re not there the plane doesn’t wait. I don’t want to then risk an argument at the counter over now owing change fees and the fare difference skyrocketing from advance purchase to full walkup.

    For me, I consider the day to be the best use of a lounge pass. Might as well be comfortable as I settle in for what may be a long haul.

  5. Depends on if it’s a major hub or small outpost airport. If it’s a hub, I’ll go on time because they might swap out planes and so things are very adjustable there. If it’s a smaller airport, where the plane coming in is the plane going out, I’ll take a look at when the incoming flight is due to arrive, and plan accordingly. No sense getting there earlier if the plane isn’t even there…

  6. I’ve had flights pulled in after a delay, so I’d be at the airport at the same time. I’d just pack extra munchies.

  7. I would agree with @dinosims about the small airport scenario; check the incoming flight number and track that. For a hub, it is a crap shoot at best. Twice, once on AK and again on DL, I was in the lounge half way through a four hour delay, when the monitor switched from delayed to “boarding”. And you have to watch the monitors because after I got on board, my mobile app was still listing the original delay time. Tornados and total shutdowns aside, I would say that you just have to be there-just don’t sweat arriving right on time. Like @Jeff said, good time to use a lounge pass.

  8. I understood the terms and conditions of a flight are that you have to check in and be present at the airport as if the flight was on time otherwise you could be denied your seat. Like it was mentioned above, a last minute equipment swap or smaller delay can occur and ruin your day.

  9. I’m there at the scheduled time and never leave. The great thing about ebooks is you can always carry many with you and download more if needed.

  10. I go early or as planned and ask about standby options. If there are lots of delays, sometimes a flight that was supposed to leave earlier is going to leave about when I would have anyway, and it usually has open seats from people misconnecting.

  11. I had a flight out of Tampa last fall. It was delayed two hours, so I took my time getting back to the airport. At the very last minute it was moved back to nearly the original time. I had to dump the food I got and run through the airport…made it but just barely.

    I have also had flights moved earlier by up to 30 minutes BEFORE their scheduled times…in those cases the planes leave half empty as many people miss the flight…never heard of such a thing until it actually happened to me.

    Now I watch flightstats and the airline sites all day before any flight…

  12. I think that airlines have it tough on this one – on one hand they are doing you a favor by letting you know of the delays, and allowing the expert traveler the opportunity to start looking at impacts and working on alternate plans. However, on the other hand, they expect you to be at the gate :30 before boarding and the new time is not guaranteed. I see the infrequent travelers make this error all the time in ATL. I make sure I’m at the airport for the original time and start working my connections with the airline, studying incoming flights, etc.

  13. Ok, so here is what happened to me, Aug. 2011, I was scheduled to fly out of PWM on a Sat., and Hurricane Irene was heading up the East Coast. I changed my fight to the day before and thought all was well. Only, it wasn’t. Not only were all the Friday flights cancelled, all the Sat. flights were as well!! A friend who lives in Maine, said go to the airport and see what a human can do-instead of online. I get to the ticket counter, only their internet server was DOWN and they couldn’t be bothered to help me!! Seriously? So, I got my netbook and put it on the counter in front of them, and booked myself a flight to BWI, for Sunday. Well, if you are with me so far, you know that ALL flights were cancelled for Sunday, as well!! In fact, the airport was CLOSED down!! I went there in person, and NO ONE was there at all, except for security!! No passengers, no ticket agents, no one!! My friend begrudingly dragged me back to his place-we were only casual acquaintances and he was doing me a huge favor, putting me up for 2 days, already-he is a realtor. In the meantime, I spent HOURS on the phone with the airlines-the ones who would even answer their phones, to try to get out on Monday. Finally, got through and rebooked to Monday. Only Sunday night, I get an email, that the Monday flight was cancelled as well!! OMG!! My friend said I couldn’t stay there anymore, so I freaked!! I poste the question to friends on Facebook, and they said to rent a car, and drive back to MD!! So, friend dragged me to the Budget rental car counter at the Portland airport, I got the car, and made the 10 HOUR, almost nonstop drive from Portland, ME, to Hagerstown, MD!! I was on the phone for hours on Tuesday, asking for a refund for the unused portion of my flight home. Took 3 MONTHS to get it back!!

  14. Recently had a Spirit Airlines flight out of MSP airport. It was delayed an hour from 6:04 to 6:58, I got an email the night before. The flight status section on their website was down temporarily at this time, but the only communication I got was the initial delay. I called the 800# and they said it’s actually leaving at 6:45. I got to the gate at 6:30, and apparently the plane had just left.

    I suspect they overbooked the flight, got enough people there early enough to fill the plane sufficiently, and took off early- relying on the fact that their policies state to be at the gate 1 hr early, regardless of the delay of the flight. This way myself and my 10 other brothers and sisters at the gate weren’t entitled to $ for our flight being bumped.

    In any event, as mentioned, I’d only seen delayed flights be delayed further before, not bumped up. This scenario was the opposite. They couldn’t get me out until the same time the next morning, which was also delayed, so I essentially had to take 1.5 days PTO from work and deal with angry bosses.

    If you asked me, they pulled a pump-fake on the departure times and didn’t communicate well at all. So I think they screwed up. That said, I should have been there earlier. That was the first flight I’ve missed and I promise it will be my last.

    I called Spirit after and got them to take some $ off of an upcoming flight I needed to reschedule with them, and to get the money from the seats I’d reserved prior (and didn’t get) applied to the new flight. Happy hunting


  15. Thanks for your comment about how you should still get to your flight early if your flight says it’s delayed to be safe. I can totally relate to what you’re saying; It’s hard to know when your fight is actually delayed or if it will be coming in on time. My husband and I are considering looking into airport notification apps that will more actually tell us the status of our flights.

  16. This post is connected to everyone of our lives. It is even more important during this time, as I am stuck in New York and don’t know when to catch the flight.

  17. I always show up for original departure time. However I’m paid by the hour. Including travel. Haven’t seen a flight time move UP in five years. Have been consistently delayed for the same flight a few times though.

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