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Coping with a Cancellation or Flight Delay with Kids

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Undeterred by a flight cancellation in paradise.

A few weeks ago, I was returning from the Big Island of Hawaii with my husband, parents, and daughter, and one of our dreaded travel fears arose – a flight cancellation. We were in a fairly remote airport (KOA) flying an airline that only has one flight a day back to the San Francisco Bay Area (Alaska, to OAK), so we immediately felt pretty stuck. Alaska was putting the majority of the passengers on our flight up in a hotel for the night, and flying them back 23(!!) hours later.

As much as we would have probably enjoyed an extra day in paradise, it wasn’t the right choice for our group due to work schedules and toddler travel tolerance, so I was determined to find an alternate way home. I pulled up my smartphone apps, located a United flight 5 hours later to the nearby airport of SFO, and asked to be put on it before others on our flight knew what hit them. Luckily, there were plenty of seats available and Alaska was happy to accommodate us. I actually spread the word to other passengers on the flight too and many of them accompanied us on the United flight (which didn’t even go out full!).

United with Kids - EMB145

If you travel by air with your little one often enough, you will inevitably find yourself on the receiving end of a painful flight delay or cancellation. Delays and cancellations are bad enough by themselves, but throw in a cranky toddler and you may have a recipe for disaster. Delays are part of the flying game, but there are a few steps you can take to minimize the impact that a delay has on your life and sanity.

Tips for a Flight Cancellation or Flight Delay with Kids

  • Think before booking: When you are planning your trip, choose flights wisely. Changing planes in Chicago in January or February is a risky proposition: one snowstorm and your flight plans are toast. Changing planes in Atlanta on a July afternoon can be equally risky, as that is when severe thunderstorms are at their worst. Think similarly about Florida airports during hurricane season. If you have other options that avoid common weather issues, book those flights!
  • Be prepared with toddler distractions: Bring lots of extras for your flight in case you are delayed – toys, movies, snacks, etc. If you can distract your child, you will save the both of you a lot of pain and suffering.
  • Be your own advocate & travel agent:  Gate and telephone agents are often happy to rebook you on an alternate flight or airline, but they aren’t likely to do the legwork for you and may be too busy handling the masses of your fellow stranded passengers. In this age of ubiquitous smartphone apps, you can often do a lot of the research on your own as you wait in line to be re-accommodated at the airport. In the case of my Hawaii delay, it was clear that Alaska agents were not going to suggest the United alternative to anyone (after all, it costs their airline big money), but they were happy to rebook anyone who asked about that flight.
  • Don’t forget about alternate airports: I’ve now navigated three flight cancellations with my little one in tow, and each time I was able to avoid a truly serious delay by flying in or out of an alternate airport. In one instance, I even had to return a rental car to a different airport, but I called ahead and the rental car company waived any drop fees after hearing of our flight cancellation sob story. Think creatively and be prepared to be flexible.

Cancelled flight or flight delay with kids? Tips for how to handle airline delays on your family vacation - plus secrets on minimizing the risk of problems in the first place!

Have you ever had a big delay or flight cancellation with kids in tow? How did it work out?

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