You’re all ready to go on your first real vacation since the pandemic started. Everything is set, and you’re on your way to the airport. You park, hop out of the car, then get a buzz on your phone. It’s bad news. For whatever reason, your flight is canceled. Now what?

This scenario is a reality that has become more common in the COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic era, as the travel industry struggles to meet the demands of its customers while still in recovery. We’ve already looked at ways you can lower your chances of having your plans ruined by a canceled flight, but what if you do everything right and your flight is still canceled? Can you salvage your vacation?

Before Your Flight

If you’re flying anytime soon, you may want to have a plan for possible flight cancelations. Before your travel day, take some time to think of a backup plan for reaching your destination. Are there other airports nearby that you may be able to use? Could you fly close to your destination and drive the rest of the way? Could you take a train or bus to your vacation spot? Familiarizing yourself with alternative routes to your desired location can give you a quick plan of action should your flight get canceled.

Sometimes, there is no other option. You can’t exactly drive to Europe or Asia. For these cases, one of the best things you can do to prepare for the unknown is to get travel insurance. While you should receive a refund for the canceled flight, if you can’t make it to your vacation, you may be in the lurch for a lot of other costs that you won’t get a refund for — hotels, tours, car rentals, etc. A travel insurance plan can help cover these costs so you’re not financially hurt by a trip you ended up not taking. Just be sure to read the conditions of your travel insurance plan, since most have conditions for covered cancelation reasons.

If Your Flight is Canceled

You’re at the airport and your flight has been canceled. What now? It’s time to enact your backup plan, if you made one. Make any phone calls you need to or take steps to change your flight to an available one. You can usually change flights on the airline’s website or app or by talking to a desk attendant at the airport. Whatever your alternative is, now’s the time to make those moves.

If you’re unable to change your flight, you should be able to get your money back from the airline. In 2024, the Biden administration passed a final ruling that required airlines to automatically issue refunds for canceled or significantly delayed flights. Delayed has now been defined as three hours for domestic flights and six hours for international flights. This ruling will be rolled out over the next two years.

If you got a travel insurance policy before your trip and must cancel your trip, you should begin the process of filing a claim as soon as you can. Collect as much documentation as you can to back up any claims you’re making, like notices of a flight delay or cancelation. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t hesitate to call the insurance carrier for help, because not following the process or making small errors can cause a delay in your claim’s processing time.

What if Your Flight is Just Delayed?

Let’s say that your flight hasn’t been outright canceled but has been delayed. What can you do? If you took our advice in our article about planning for flight disruptions and built in a buffer day for travel, you may be able to wait out the delay. If the delay is overnight, the airline may provide compensation for meals or a hotel room, though this isn’t required. Some travel insurance plans may have hotel or meal compensation for covered reasons.

Delays are also where having a backup plan comes in handy, since the airline’s revised travel schedule may not work for you. You can treat it like there was a cancelation and move forward trying to get to your destination. It helps that the Department of Transportation mandates that significant delays entitle you to a full refund.

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If your flight is canceled, things don’t have to get worse for you. If you have a backup plan, you still may be able to go on your trip. When you can’t, knowing how to get your money back for the flight, or the whole trip if you have travel insurance, can make the canceled vacation hurt less. While it may not be what you wanted, it’s certainly making the most of a bad situation. Hopefully, you never need these tips and are able to enjoy all your trips!