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Man and kids laying on the floor of an airport

Even if you are perfectly prepared, delayed or canceled flights can throw a wrench in your travel plans. When you’re traveling with kids, flight disruptions are even more difficult to deal with, since your kiddos need to sleep, eat, be entertained, and stay comfortable until you reach your final destination. 

To help you stay stress-free in the face of flight delays and cancellations, we’ve created this simple guide with tips for managing your air travel like a boss while keeping your kids happy and excited to travel!

11 Tips for Dealing With Flight Cancellations When Traveling With Kids

1. Book Fewer Legs If Possible

To reduce your chances of experiencing flight delays or cancellations, it’s a good idea to avoid multi-leg journeys. The more flights you need to make, the more chances you have of encountering significant delays. By choosing shorter journeys with fewer layovers and connecting flights, you’ll be setting yourself up for a smoother travel experience. 

2. Fly in the Morning

Morning flights can still get canceled, but because your flight will be at the beginning of that day’s schedule, you’re less likely to experience the pile-up that can happen near the end of the day. Delays in the morning start to accumulate quickly, and the last flights of the night will generally face the brunt of the impact.  

3. Know Your Rights

It can be a little confusing to figure out what you are entitled to if your flight is significantly delayed or canceled since it can vary immensely between different airlines. There are a few federal laws that protect air travelers, but for the most part, you’ll be working directly with the airline if you are owed a flight change, a refund, etc. 

Federal Laws for Delayed Flights

The U.S. Department of Transportation does not have any laws requiring airlines to refund or compensate passengers for delayed flights. However, some customers may be able to appeal to the DoT if their flights are “significantly delayed,” a term that is not defined, and is applied on a case-by-case basis. 

Federal Laws for Cancelled Flights

If your flight is canceled, the DoT does require airlines to refund your purchase or offer you equivalent compensation if you purchased a refundable ticket. Most often, your airline will refund you automatically or at your request, and you will not need to appeal for federal aviation consumer protection.

It is also important to remember that the DoT does not have jurisdiction over international flights, and only United States airlines are obligated to abide by their regulations. 

If you did not purchase a refundable ticket or travel insurance, you may not be entitled to a refund or compensation, even if you appeal to the Department of Transportation. 

What To Do If You Are Refused a Refund

If you have purchased a refundable ticket with a U.S. airline, you are entitled to a refund if that flight is canceled. If the airline refuses to refund you, you’ll need to contact the DoT and file a complaint.

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4. Study Your Airline’s Policies

Every airline has different policies, so it’s important that you know exactly what you’re buying before you make a final ticket purchase. Some airlines offer better amenities and refund policies, and if you’re going to be traveling with kids and paying for lots of tickets, it’s best to choose an airline that guarantees you’ll be taken care of. 

Airline Customer Service Dashboard

To get a better idea of which airlines offer the best cancellation and delay policies, visit the newly launched Airline Customer Service Dashboard. An effort headed by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the dashboard was launched ahead of Labor Day weekend 2022 to make the various amenities for travelers from major U.S. airlines in the event of delays or cancellations more readily accessible. 

5. Invest in Travel Insurance 

Travel insurance is used to reimburse you if you have to cancel a flight for a personal reason, but it can also help act as a safety net if you are traveling on a multi-leg journey. 

Let’s say your first flight gets canceled or delayed, and you won’t be able to make your connecting flight. If you have purchased travel insurance, you can cancel the second flight, receive a refund, and book a new connecting flight once you know when you’ll reach your layover destination. 

Having travel insurance can save you a lot of money if you need to cancel flights since you’ll get refunds for everyone’s tickets. 

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6. Prepare to Multitask

If you are already at the airport and your flight gets significantly delayed or canceled, be prepared to multitask. You’ll need to start checking multiple resources to find a flight with available seats:

  • Check your airline’s app.
  • Stand in line at the customer service desk to speak with a representative.
  • Check other airlines at the airport to see if you can find other flights to your destination. 
  • Get on the phone with your airline.

7. Load Your Devices with TV Shows & Movies

Delays can force you to spend long hours at the airport, which can be stressful, overwhelming, and boring for kiddos. Whether you’re concerned about delays or not, make sure to load your devices with your kid’s favorite shows and movies, or new media they’re excited to watch. Having something quiet and engaging to do is essential for staying calm at the airport, so don’t hesitate to over-prepare here.  

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8. Bring Dollar Bills for Vending Machines

Most U.S. airports have vending machines, which can be a lot of fun for kids to explore and use. You’d be surprised how much time can be eaten up by letting your kids pick their own snacks and feed dollars to the vending machines, so make sure you have a few bills ready to hand over to your little ones if you get delayed. 

Having bills can help you to limit the amount of money they spend, and save your card from potential accidents in the hands of little ones. 

9. Carry a Pillow 

You never know when and where your kiddo is going to need a nap when you’re traveling, and whether you’re sitting at your gate, waiting on the runway for air traffic control to give you the go-ahead, or visiting a new hotel, it’s nice to have a comfortable pillow for them to rest their head. Carrying a small travel pillow, a plush, toy, or even a simple neck pillow can help make naps a lot easier while you’re experiencing flight delays!

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10. Ask About Breastfeeding Rooms

Major U.S. airports are required to offer a space for breastfeeding babies to eat within the airport, and these lounges can also make a comfortable place to rest for a little while if you are delayed with small kids.

If you’re in a large airport, check with customer service to see if they have a room for breastfeeding babies, or additional services for parents of small children. 

11. Make It a Teaching Moment

Life doesn’t always go to plan, but it’s important to keep calm and carry on. By staying calm in the face of cancellations or delays, you can teach your kid how important it is to keep a positive attitude when things don’t work out, and that there are always multiple ways to solve a problem.

Even if your kiddos feel frustrated and don’t model perfect behavior while traveling, your ability to stay calm will inform the outcome of your future travels, and help your kids feel more comfortable with the natural complications of airplane travel.

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