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When you’re eager to get to your next destination, nothing is more frustrating than sitting on the tarmac or being stranded at the gate. If events beyond your control have pushed the pause button on your holiday plans, you may feel helpless and stuck in the cabin. Perhaps that frustration has even prompted the quick little search that brought you here today.

Regardless of the cause for the delay, you should know your rights when it comes to interrupted travel plans. Luckily, you probably have time on your hands as you are sitting on the tarmac, so read on for Cabeau’s best tips on what to do when your plane is delayed.

1.   Try to Relax

Don’t sit there fuming. Having an outburst at the flight staff or shouting about your unlucky situation doesn’t help. Take a few deep breaths, and trust that even seasoned travellers feel angst when they’re stuck in this annoying situation. Better to close your eyes or strap on your sleep mask for five minutes to compose yourself if you feel those angry emotions bubbling to the surface.

2.   Record the Time and Know Your Rights

As soon as the plane’s door closes after boarding, take a mental note of the time. This is especially important if you are flying during peak holiday periods such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or spring break when delays are likely. Legally, airlines must respect passenger rights if the wait on the runway is overly long. According to U.S. laws on tarmac delays, if you are waiting two hours or more, you have the following rights:

  • After two hours, passengers must be provided with food, water, functioning bathrooms, and medical care if necessary.
  • The cabin temperature during a delay should be comfortable for passengers.
  • After three hours of sitting on the tarmac, passengers must be given the option to deplane.
  • You have the right to be informed and should receive updates regarding the delay every 30 minutes.

If your flight is departing or arriving outside of the US, these rules may be governed by another nation’s policies and laws and could vary.

3.   What if you Deplane?

Deciding what to do when your plane is delayed for more than three hours is no easy task. This type of delay is unlikely, but if you do find yourself sitting on the tarmac this long, you may need to choose whether or not to deplane and cut your losses. If you are faced with this tough choice, weigh your options and remember:

  • An airline does not need to let you back on the plane if you choose to leave.
  • If your luggage is checked, it may need to be collected at a later time if you deplane.
  • If you choose to stay on board and wait, the flight crew must remind you every 30 minutes that you have the right to deplane.

If it is possible at all to do so while sitting on the tarmac, you can try calling airline customer service for advice. If you think you can deplane and find a better option on another airline, you can ask your carrier over the phone if they can ‘endorse’ your ticket to another airline. They don’t have to do this, but the end goal is to keep you happy – and after several hours, it may be worth asking.

4.   When to File a Complaint

Air carriers have procedures for what to do when your plane is delayed, but if they are not complying with air travel laws, get ready to file a complaint. For example, if after two hours of sitting on the tarmac food and water is not provided, take notes. First, gently remind flight staff that passengers are entitled to these things if the wait is overly long. If that doesn’t work, follow these steps to file a formal complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT).

    • Contact the airline in writing to register your complaint.
    • Expect the airline to respond in writing within 60 days.
    • If you are unsatisfied with the compensation or acknowledgment of your complaint, the DOT may step in to help.

The DOT takes violations seriously, and if an airline is found to have imposed on your rights while sitting on the tarmac, they could face fines in the millions.

5.   The Delayed or Cancelled Flight

Knowing how to file a complaint can actually come in pretty hand when problems arise during air travel. If you are bumped, stranded, delayed overnight or experience any other number of travel snags, look for your air carrier’s “conditions of carriage” – a document written by air carriers and filed with the government.

      • Many airlines will provide food vouchers for extended delays.
      • A hotel stay or overnight supply bag of pajamas may come in handy for a cancelled flight that has been rescheduled for the next day.
      • Remember, it doesn’t hurt to ask for compensation for sitting on the tarmac too long.

Each carrier has a different offer, but what to do when your plane is delayed is often up to you. Extra perks may not be offered up front unless you ask.

6.   Extra Support

If you need extra support when you find yourself sitting on the tarmac or stranded at the airport, there are a few more measures you can take if you have the time. Call the airline’s support number to help with re-booking and be ready to check what compensation your credit card offers for travel delay. If you have travel insurance, make sure you contact your agent. Or, if you just need to vent, try posting on social media. Many larger airlines track posts that include their handles, so be sure to tag your airline.

Figuring out what to do when your plane is delayed is much easier with a calm mindset. Before you leave on your next flight, grab an Evolution Pillow to stash in your carry-on––just in case you find yourself sitting on the tarmac in unexpected circumstances!

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