12 Things To Do When Your Flight's Canceled or Delayed

iStock.com/vm
iStock.com/vm

Delayed flights are a bummer. After all, the reason you came to the airport is because you wanted to reach your destination faster. But flight delays are unpredictable. Maybe the weather became surprisingly unpleasant, or a mechanical issue arose, or, as in the case of China’s Hangzhou Ziaoshan International Airport in July 2010, a UFO was discovered hovering near the airfield. Here’s what you should do if you’re stranded because of a flight delay or, heaven forbid, a canceled flight.

1. Understand your rights as a passenger if your flight is delayed ...

Fun fact: Legally, you have very few rights. In the United States, at least, few regulations require airlines to provide you with any form of compensation after a delayed flight. Many airlines, however, have what’s called a Contract of Carriage, which describes what you’re entitled to: Potential food vouchers, discounts, refunds, or a hotel stay in the event of a flight delay when the airline is at fault. So read those terms and conditions when you book!

2. ... Especially if you’re flying in Europe.

If you’re flying in Europe—or flying aboard a European airline—passengers have more rights. According to Regulation EC 261/2004, if your flight reaches its destination more than three hours late (or if you were denied boarding because of overbooking) you may have a right to be compensated up to €600, or about $700.

3. If a flight delay or cancellation caused you a big financial loss, you could be compensated for it.

We’ll let the gurus at the great website Airfare Watchdog explain:

“[I]f you can provide evidence of financial loss caused by a delay on an international flight, and prove that the airline could have prevented it by taking 'reasonable measures,' then you may be able to claim further compensation under the Montreal Convention, a treaty that covers most international travel. Under its Article 22, it stipulates a maximum payout of 4150 SDRs (currently $5870).”

(By the way, an SDR, or "Special Drawing Right," is an international unit based on a basket of five currencies: the U.S. dollar, the pound sterling, the Euro, the Japanese yen, and the Chinese renminbi. It's the main unit used by the International Monetary Fund.)

4. Check your connecting flight status immediately.

In most cases, the airline will put you on the next available flight to your destination—but it may not alert you to that fact. Call or check customer service immediately to get an update on your status. In some instances, the airline might have automatically rebooked you on a completely different route to your destination. (In the case of one Mental Floss editor, a delayed flight from Chicago to New York transformed into a multi-segment marathon from Chicago to Grand Rapids to Dallas to New York.)

5. Make some calls as soon as your flight is delayed or canceled.

If you rented a car, let the agency at your destination know about your delayed flight status. If you think the flight delay might last into the night (or will become a canceled flight at some point) and the airline doesn't seem to be budging on handing out those hotel perks, it may also be worth booking a hotel yourself just in case. Most hotels don’t charge until you check in, so—pending the accommodation’s cancellation policy—there might be nothing to lose if the airline manages to pull through.

6. Do some research on chronically delayed flights.

Now that you have some extra time on your hands, why not check up on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Travel Consumer Report? It supplies a monthly rundown of the cause of every flight delay experienced by each carrier. Similarly, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics maintains a list tracking the causes of delays as well as list of “chronically delayed flights.” It can’t save you this time, but it might help you pick a better flight next time.

7. Wait before you begin making complaints ...

If your flight hasn’t been delayed for at least three hours, you really shouldn’t expect any vouchers or sympathy. At that point, complaining about a delay is a waste of everybody’s time. If you bought travel insurance, your policy will likely kick in about four hours after the delay. Depending on the policy you purchased and the provider, you should call the insurance company when hour four hits to see what you may be entitled to.

8. ... But try not to fall asleep.

In some cases, an airline may tell passengers that the flight delay will last three hours, only to suddenly announce over the P.A. system that they’ll be boarding soon. A flight can be “undelayed” and you should be prepared if that happens. So if you plan on taking a nap, find a buddy to wake you up just in case. (In a similar vein: If a flight is delayed before you reach the airport, you cannot arrive late to check in. You need to show up as if the plane were leaving on time.)

9. Read the fine print on your credit card—it might cover flight delays.

Many credit cards come with travel protection benefits in the event of a delay; some will even reimburse you if your flight is delayed a certain amount of time (if you booked your ticket with that card). So get familiar with your credit card perks and see if you’re eligible.

10. Take a hike.

Airports are great places to go people watching and, of course, plane-spotting. They’re also not a bad place to exercise. (And, let’s admit it—you might need to blow off some steam.) Multiple airports now have gyms and free yoga studios. Phoenix Sky Harbor boasts a “Walk The Sky Harbor Fitness Trail” [PDF].

11. Check the attractions at the airport.

During the winter, Denver International has an outdoor ice-skating rink that’s free to use (even skate rentals are free). Seattle-Tacoma International displays more than 60 works of art and offers a self-guided walking tour. At Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the world-renowned Rijksmuseum has set up exhibits showing Dutch masterpieces. And at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, Terminal 3 boasts a four-story slide.

12. Cuddle an animal.

You’re stressed. You’re anxious. You’re angry. But what if we told you that at San Francisco International Airport there’s a therapy pig named Lilou who struts around (in costume!) and would love to cuddle with you? Or what if we told you that LAX has a program called PUP—for the “Pets Unstressing Program”—that provides free snuggles from therapy dogs? See, getting stranded in an airport thanks to a delayed flight isn’t so bad.

10 Out of This World Facts About Area 51

Nevada's Groom Lake Road, near Area 51.
Nevada's Groom Lake Road, near Area 51.
Robert Heinst/iStock via Getty Images

Though it's officially a a flight testing facility, the Nevada-based Area 51 has been associated with alien sightings and secret government studies for decades, and accounts of extraterrestrial sightings have sparked public imagination and conspiracy theories worldwide. Here are a few facts you might not already know about Area 51.

1. Area 51's existence wasn't officially acknowledged by the U.S. government until 2013.

Although it was chosen as a site to test aircraft in 1955, the government did not acknowledge that Area 51 even existed until 2013. According to CNN, maps and other documents created by the CIA were released thanks to Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archives, who was granted access to the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, the papers made no mention of little green men running around the facility.

2. We still don't really know why it's called Area 51.

Out of all the things we don't know about Area 51, Encyclopedia Britannica says that the one for-certain uncertainty about the zone is its name. Like everything else involving the site, the theories are out there: A video published by Business Insider suggests the name stems from the location's proximity to nuclear test sites that were divided into numerically-designated areas.

3. Area 51 is still expanding.

Area 51 has been growing, something which true believers may attribute to the need for more UFO parking spaces. Business Insider points out that satellite imagery of Area 51 displays significant construction within the area between 1984 and 2016, including new runways and hangars. BI posits that this could mean the B-21 Raider stealth bomber is being tested at the site—"or this is what they want us to believe."

4. The Moon landings were supposedly faked at Area 51.

One of the bigger conspiracy theories out there not only questions the authenticity of the 1969 moon landing, but claims it was staged at Area 51. Bill Kaysing—author of We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle—believes NASA officials filmed the fake landing within the base, brainwashed the astronauts, and used lunar meteorites picked up in Antarctica as a stand-in for moon rocks.

5. The first UFO "sightings" in Area 51 were easily explained.

Unidentified Flying Object UFO
ktsimage/istock via getty images plus

In its early years, Area 51 was used to test U-2 planes—which flew at altitudes higher than 60,000 feet—in an area far from civilians and spies. During these tests, pilots flying commercial aircraft at 10,000 to 20,000 feet would detect the planes far above them, completely in the dark about the government’s project. Hence sightings of unidentified objects were reported when in reality it was a military plane ... unless that’s what they want you to think.

6. Area 51 employees might travel to work via plane.

Those who work at Area 51 appear to have a pretty sweet commuter transportation program. According to USA Today, employees board unmarked aircraft at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas which ferries them to and from an undisclosed location. Referred to as “Janet” due to its call sign—which some say stands for “Just Another Non-Existent Terminal”—the exact destination of the Boeing 737-600s is officially unknown, though some speculate that the planes go to Area 51 and other top-secret locations. A former posting for an open flight attendant position stated applicants “must be level-headed and clear thinking while handling unusual incidents and situations,” but didn't mention any encounters of the third kind.

7. Former Area 51 employees who were sworn to secrecy are opening up about their work there.

Some former employees who were once sworn to secrecy about what happened at Area 51 are now free to share their stories. One Area 51 veteran, James Noce, recalled handling various mishaps that were accidentally exposed to the public eye—for example, the crash of a secret aircraft that was witnessed by a police officer and a vacationing family. The family had taken photos; Noce confiscated the film from their camera and told the family and the deputy not to mention the crash to anyone.

Noce recounted how there was no official documentation stating he worked at Area 51, and that his salary was paid in cash. He also confirmed that he never saw any alien activity at the site.

8. Area 51 employees once took the facility to court over hazardous working conditions.

In the 1990s, Jonathan Turley—a lawyer and professor at George Washington University—was approached by workers from Area 51 who claimed exposure to the site’s hazardous materials and waste was making them sick. In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Turley wrote that the workers "described how the government had placed discarded equipment and hazardous waste in open trenches the length of football fields, then doused them with jet fuel and set them on fire. The highly toxic smoke blowing through the desert base was known as 'London fog' by workers. Many came down with classic skin and respiratory illnesses associated with exposure to burning hazardous waste. A chief aim of the lawsuits was to discover exactly what the workers had been exposed to so they could get appropriate medical care."

According to Turley, "we prevailed in demonstrating that the government had acted in violation of federal law. However, the government refused to declassify information about what it had burned in the trenches, which meant that workers (and their doctors) still didn’t know what they had been exposed to. The government also refused to acknowledge the name of the base. The burning at Area 51 was in all likelihood a federal crime. But the government escaped responsibility by hiding behind secrecy[.]"

9. The best place for UFO-spotting near Area 51 is supposedly by a mailbox.

According to one person who claims to have worked in Area 51 and to have seen alien technology there (whose "claims about his education and employment could not be verified," according to How Stuff Works, which raises doubts about his credibility), there's one spot in particular where he would bring people to see scheduled UFO flights: The Black Mailbox, an unassuming pair of mailboxes which is apparently a hotspot for alien action (they're located about 12 miles from Area 51). It was originally a single black box for owner Steve Medlin's mail, but as people who wanted to believe began to tamper with and destroy that mail (and pop in letters to aliens), Medlin was forced to put another mailbox labeled “Alien” beneath it to appease visitors and to preserve his own post.

10. It's impossible to sneak into Area 51 without being spotted—and use of deadly force is authorized if anyone tries to evade security.

Given the intense nature of its secrecy, it comes as no surprise that Area 51 is heavily guarded. Pilots who purposefully fly into the restricted air zone can face court-martial, dishonorable discharge, and a stint in the can. The land is patrolled by “cammo dudes,” men wearing camouflage that have been seen driving around the area keeping an eye out for pesky civilians looking to break into the area. But truth-seekers, beware: Signs placed outside the area warn that Area 51 security is authorized to use deadly force on anyone looking to sneak onto the property.

This Convenient, Comfortable Travel Pillow Doesn’t Wrap Around Your Neck

Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images
Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images

If an angry bit of airplane turbulence has recently whammed your forehead into the window, you probably have the bruises to prove that sleeping on the go can be a dangerous game. Though neck pillows can offer some security, not everyone’s a fan—some people can’t sleep totally upright, some don’t think it provides enough support, and others simply don’t like the feeling of a plush toilet seat curled around their necks.

For those people, there’s the Ostrich Pillow Mini, a tiny, oblong pillow into which you slip your hand, forearm, or elbow, depending on what’s most comfortable for you. It will stay in place and protect your head from airplane turbulence in a way that no balled-up, threadbare hoodie ever could, but it’s not just for those lucky winners (or purchasers) of window seats. You can use the pillow wherever you might be inclined to rest your head on top of your arms, including plane or train trays, piles of library books, and office desks. One Amazon customer even used the pillows as elbow pads to protect himself from unforgivingly hard arm rests.

Ostrich pillow mini
Amazon

Since the Ostrich Pillow Mini essentially works as an extension of your arm, you don’t have to stay stone-still while you sleep. As Travel + Leisure’s Claudia Fisher puts it, “Sometimes, I even wake up from a nap to discover I’ve shifted in my sleep but brought my little arm pillow with me to support my head in its new spot.”

In addition to its main opening, the pillow has two other holes. One is a small, finger-sized opening through which you slide your thumb if you’re keeping the pillow on your hand. The other is a larger hole at the other end, through which you slide your hand if you want the pillow to stay on your forearm or elbow.

Ostrich pillow mini
Amazon

It’s compact enough that you can easily fit it into your carry-on bag, backpack, or briefcase, and understated enough that you can power nap in public without drawing attention to yourself. The outer layer is light gray, and the inner layer comes in Midnight Grey, Blue Reef, or Sleepy Blue. You can order it for $35 from Amazon.

Check out some other ways to make flying more comfortable here.

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