A Travel Trick for Last-Minute Delayed or Canceled Flights

A Travel Trick for Last-Minute Delayed or Canceled Flights

Delayed or canceled flights are in no way a fun part of travel. These events can be a real headache in your plans that might already be stressful to you before this curveball.

And, although they can usually be dealt with without too much of a problem when there’s a fair amount of notice, that’s not always going to be the case. Sometimes a delayed flight can ruin your connecting flight completely. And last-minute canceled flights can throw your plans completely out the window.

We’re pretty regular travelers and have been lucky not to have too many late-in-the-game canceled flights over the past few years. We had a lot of flights that were canceled or changed leading up to the travel date (especially during the height of the pandemic). However, we were always able to get things resolved without too much of an issue…

until our last flight a couple of weeks ago.

Our flight got delayed enough that there would be no way we’d make our connecting flight. Although it was still a pain in the butt, I’ll tell you what happened and a trick we used to save ourselves a huge amount of time!

The delay might as well have been a canceled flight…

To comply with our requirements as perpetual tourists in Panama, we come back to the U.S. at least every 6 months. The rules also state that we need to be out of the country for at least 30 days. So that means we have plenty of time to visit friends and family on these trips.

On our latest trip, we had stayed with my brother and sister-in-law in Texas for a week. Now it was time to head to Ohio for a few weeks, which is where we are currently.

Our Southwest itinerary was set to fly from Austin-Bergstrom (AUS) to Cleveland (CLE) with a layover of just shy of an hour in Nashville (BNA). The flight from Austin was scheduled for a 4pm takeoff and we had gotten there with plenty of time.

A Travel Trick for Last-Minute Delayed or Canceled Flights - Southwest: This gate's empty...
I thought this sign at a non-busy gate we waited at was funny…

While we waited, we noticed a storm rolling in with some loud thunder. We even joked that we’d probably end up with a canceled flight on this trip.

Yeah, don’t joke about these kinds of things. Sure enough, there was an announcement that the plane we were waiting for was circling above until the storm passed. They said that it could be quite a while and for those with connecting flights after this one, they should come to the counter to try to get something rescheduled.

In other words, it would have been a close call to make our Nashville to Cleveland flight before this delay, but there was no way it would happen with this pitfall.

By the time the announcement was over, we looked and there was a line of probably 30-40 people waiting to talk to the counter agent. I made my way over to the back of the line and guess what – this line wasn’t moving at all. There was no doubt we’d be waiting at least an hour or more to figure things out… ugh!

The simple trick we used

Ok, this is where it became time to get a little creative. Lisa and Faith were still waiting with our backpacks in the seating area while I stood there in this tar pit of a line.

The first thing I did was call Lisa and tell her to call Southwest. I remembered that sometimes you can skip the fun of the counter by going that route.

She came over and let me know that Southwest had a backlog on the phone and the automated attendant promised to call her back in close to a half-hour… another ugh.

Time to adjust the plan.

I had Lisa stay in line and I headed to another Southwest counter just two gates away. And that my friends, is the simple trick that can be used in the event of a delayed or canceled flight.

You see, all the computers are linked (this is 2021 after all!) and in almost all cases, any counter agent can help you. In this case, there was only 1 other person there. That’s right, 1 person as opposed to the 30-40 or so in the line at our gate.

I got to the counter within a single minute and explained our dilemma. The agent was well-aware of things and she was as friendly as could be (gotta love Southwest!).

Now, what she could actually do was a little more limited so that’s another ballgame. No other flights were going from Nashville to Cleveland that night or even the next morning, so that wasn’t a good option. A couple of the other choices were:

  • Just call it a day at this airport and come back with a rebooked ticket the next morning to do it all over again with a layover in Baltimore.
  • Fly into Chicago, stay the night at a hotel, and then fly into Cleveland the next morning.

I called Lisa on her phone and had her leave the line at our original gate and head over. She gave Faith a heads up who stayed and watched our bags in the meantime.

We decided against staying in Austin because my brother lives about an hour away and we were already at the airport. Let’s make the day count for something and at least get closer to Cleveland to make the next day easier.

So we went with the Chicago option and she got us on a flight there that was leaving Austin about an hour later. She made all the changes and contacted some folks to ensure our bags moved over.

So, it wasn’t a perfect solution, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is to understand that when we went back to our gate to get Faith, that line had barely moved. By not just following the herd, we easily saved at least an hour or so of just standing in line.

And that’s what I’m here to share with you today. If your flight ever gets delayed or canceled and that big old line of people appears out of nowhere, know that that’s not your only option. Try calling the airline or heading to another counter (of that same airline)… it can save you a ton of valuable time.

In our case, there wasn’t a good option to change our flight to. But if there was, time can be of the essence. And even if it’s not, it’s nice to get everything handled and be able to move on.

A bonus tip for delayed or canceled flights

I sometimes forget that some credit cards come with travel delay or cancelation insurance. If you book the whole amount on the credit card (even if it’s just the taxes when using frequent flyer miles), you might be able to have the card reimburse you for hotel costs, transportation costs, and even meal expenses. Here’s a story I read recently that reminded me of that option.

In my case, I had used a card that didn’t have that benefit since we’re being very focused on using specific cards to build up a new reserve of miles. However, I still checked double-checked just to be sure.

Because our flight delay was weather-related, the airline isn’t responsible for taking care of you. So we had to foot the bill for the hotel and our meals in Chicago. Having a credit card that reimburses those sorts of things could have put $150-200 back in our pockets.

You can check out some great travel credit card recommendations on my aptly-named Recommended Credit Cards page. I’ll receive a small commission at no cost to you for signing up for a card through one of my links.


It’s like they say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” so if this was one of those things for you, I hope you found it helpful. I love small tips like this that can make life just a little easier. Delayed and canceled flights are part of traveling, unfortunately, so every little bit counts!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to enjoying our time here in Ohio. 🙂

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

16 thoughts on “A Travel Trick for Last-Minute Delayed or Canceled Flights”

  1. Cool trick! I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a counter to change a flight before. I usually go to the customer service counter (with a giant line) while being on the phone with another agent just in case that’s faster (I love that y’all do that too 😉 ). A further tip for the phone would be to have someone in your family with a higher status call. Since my Mom and I travel together and she’s usually a higher status we would have her call while I stand in line.

    I’ll definitely try a random counter for that airline next time! And can confirm about the trip delay and cancellation insurance on credit cards – I use my Chase Sapphire for all travel for this reason. I have horrible travel luck and their reimbursements pay for the annual fee multiple times over every year. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing! I hope the rest of y’alls trip runs more smoothly.

  2. Thank you for posting this. Having a backup plan, and a backup backup plan for travel these days is a must. I always travel with a carryon that can get me through 24 hours in case of luggage or airline delays and airline, hotel, Lyft/Uber and cruise line apps loaded on my phone with a paper copy of itinerary for reference. Sometimes it seems like getting to one’s destination successfully has become a sport. ; )

  3. Two great points in your message: 1.) you don’t have to follow the crowd. 2.) Be creative, that’s why you have a brain….and it can be fun too! Your family worked like a precision commando team scouring the airport and internet to find an acceptable solution to the delay in your travel plans. Based upon what I’ve read in your blog, you are natural at point 1.

      1. They did this on The Amazing Race a couple years ago, so I’ve had it in my back pocket ever since. Thankfully haven’t had to use it… 😬

  4. Good tip. I’ll keep that in mind the next time we have a problem.
    My flight back to the US was canceled in February. It was very difficult to rebook.
    The flights were so limited then. Hopefully, things will go back to normal soon.
    Inside the US, it looks good.

    1. From what we’ve been seeing, the good news is that the flights aren’t so limited anymore. The bad news is that everyone and their brother are traveling now and it seems like almost every flight we’re on is completely full or close to it.

  5. LOL that was the best explanation ever. “There was a long line… So we moved to another line”.

    I hadn’t considered that. Cancelled flights are just the worst, especially these days. Passengers have to pay all of the costs, which I don’t think is quite right.

    Great post, I’ll use that as my next trick.

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