Booking flights in the age of travel chaos - a plane

How to beat holiday disruptions, flight delays, and cancellations for hassle-free travel

Holiday disruptions, flight cancellations, and flight delays are very common nowadays, as is lost or delayed luggage. If you’re not careful you may end up stranded or out of pocket if and when things go wrong.

Luckily, there are things you can do to protect yourself. While some may seem like overkill, if you stick to them, you’ll still be able to make it to your destination without too much hassle, even if things do go wrong.

Note: I live in a country that falls under EU directive 261. This means airlines are legally required to provide passengers  with compensation for delayed or cancelled flights under certain circumstances. If your flight is not to or from one of the countries that uphold this directive (or similar laws), you’ll need to doublecheck what your passenger rights are. What follows is sound advice regardless, as it can minimise risk in all cases.

1. Book directly with an airline

Booking a flight through an online travel site used to be a great way to save money, and it’s true that tickets booked through such sites are often significantly cheaper than those booked through the airlines themselves. Shady sites like,, and others are just full of cheap cheap flights. However, in this climate of frequent delays, cancellations and other issues that make travel trickier and more annoying, booking through a third party removes or significantly complicates your legal protections. While an airline is legally required to rebook you on a different flight if yours is cancelled or delayed long enough for you to miss a connection, a third party is not. Both sides will be quick to pass the buck should anything go wrong, leaving you stranded or out of pocket.

Airlines are also liable for compensating passengers for delays under the conditions set out in EU Directive 261 (and similar laws enacted in participating countries), but will often complicate things there too if they can. You can use flight aggregators like Skyscanner to search for flights, but always book directly through the airline’s site if at all possible.

Another reason to avoid these cheap third party site is that sometimes they advertise flights at a price that just doesn’t exist, or forget to notify the airline of your reservation. If you’re not vigilant, you may find out last minute that you don’t actually have a ticket at all. Read here about my own experience with

FYI, Codeshare flights (which are the norm now) are fine. Officially, the operating airline (the one whose plane you flew in) is responsible for putting you on a new flight if theirs is delayed or cancelled, but the airline you booked with can do this too, which can work out better if the operating airline is crappy or doesn’t have representatives in the airport you’re stranded in.

2. Book with credit card or Paypal

If a company has not provided a fit for purpose service and is not refunding you your money, you’ll be able to do a chargeback through your credit card, giving you an additional layer of protection. Paypal, while not similarly legally bound, is usually very good about getting your money back from unscrupulous companies, so makes a reasonable alternative if you don’t have a credit card.

This is particularly useful in cases when your budget doesn’t stretch to buying directly form an airline and you have to go for the budget option. As an example of why this matters, you can read about this experience with, one of many unreliable travel companies.

3. Research the company thoroughly

Forget everything you think you know about airlines, travel companies, airports, car rental companies, etc. The travel industry has gone downhill since the pandemic and customer service took a major hit even at companies that used to be good. Previously good airlines / travel companies can now be problematic, while budget, cheap, and poor airlines that used to be tolerable, may now be unusable.

British Airways is going down the can
Airlines like British Airways, once considered premium, are nowadays unreliable and poor
  • Read reviews of any company you’re considering doing business with. Pay particular attention to bad reviews, as good reviews can be bought. Another thing companies do is invite customers to review them as soon as the order is placed, which means they get five star reviews if the booking process was smooth.Trustpilot is an OK place to look, even though the tactic I just mentioned is used heavily with it. Sitejabber, is also good and seems to attract more bad reviews, as it’s more independent. The best thing is to Google the company’s name followed by the word “reviews” and start reading.
  • Check airline flight delay and cancellation rate for the airline you’re considering, and pay close attention to the airports you’ll be flying in and out of. This is a good website for doing that.
  • Google the company’s name with the word “complaints”, “problems” or “issues” afterwards, and see which ones are not as bad as the others (as, frankly, most aren’t great nowadays).
  • If you absolutely have to book through a travel agent / online travel site, check to see if they are members of any trade organisations or schemes in your country before booking with them. This gives you some extra protection if things go wrong. In the UK, this means you should check if they are ATOL protected, or members of ABTA, for example. Hint: Most cheap, semi-scammy travel website like, gotogate, and similar are not. 

4. Fly Direct if possible

Direct flights are usually more expensive, so this isn’t going to work for everyone, plus sometimes there are simply no direct flights to your destination. That said, having fewer moving parts to your journey is a big plus nowadays, so if it’s possible for you, book direct flights.


5. Book all legs of your journey together, not separately

In the before times, splitting your journey by booking flights separately was an awesome way to sometimes save money on flights. You could create your own layovers in interesting places, relying on cheap budget airline flights to get you from A to B, then B to C. But with flights now being delayed so often, this is no longer a recommended tactic.

If your flight is delayed and you miss your connection, there are a couple of major differences between booking the journey together or booking separate tickets. To begin with, if you book both legs together, the airline is required to rebook or reroute you so you make your destination, and is legally required to provide you with food and accommodation. If you only booked one flight with them, though, your next flight is not their concern, even if you missed it. The other airline might be able to put you on another flight, but they won’t owe you anything else (food, hotel if you’re stranded overnight, etc.) even if they do.

The other thing to keep in mind is that EU directive 261 also means you’re entitled to compensation if you’re delayed by X amount of hours from reaching your destination (how many is determined by the length of your journey. Read more here).

If a short delay causes you to miss a connecting flight and results in a longer delay getting to your final destination, you could still be entitled to significant compensation if you booked both legs together. Not so if you booked the tickets separately, as the airline’s concern in that case is to get you from A to B only, for which there was no qualifying delay.

6. Fly with only hand luggage if possible

This piece of advice, like ones to do with budget, are not going to be right for everyone, but with staff shortages at major airports around the world still causing frequent baggage delays and lost luggage issues, the safest thing you can do when flying is keep everything with you. If you must travel with hold luggage, pack as if your suitcase might not arrive for a while, keeping all the possible essentials with you (easier to do when flying from countries that aren’t following the security theatre liquid rules, but still).

If you’re flying with hold luggage, make sure it’s clearly tagged with your name and contact details, including email address, phone number, and full address in your home country. Keep your baggage receipt with you until you reach your final destination. Check out point number 4 in my American Airlines nightmare story, if you want to know why this matters.

7. Give yourself extra time

If you’re travelling for an important event, don’t cut it too fine. Delays and cancellations can add hours, if not days to your journey, so give yourself that extra time, if possible, and the space for things to go wrong. An extra day away is a nicer option than missing the wedding/ conference / birthday you bought the flights for in the first place.

8. Choose an earlier flight

If something goes wrong and there’s a cancellation, you’ll hopefully be able to catch another one. In case of a delay, it should give you more time.

9. Choose your connection airport carefully

Similarly to airlines and travel sites, many airports have gone downhill in recent years. You want to find out if there are any strikes, whether luggage tends to go missing, and, most importantly, how long it takes to clear immigration and security, if that’s a thing you’re going to have to do before you catch your next flight.

Prioritise big hubs with quick turnarounds and, if possible, more than one flight to your destination per day.

Here’s an example of why this matters. TLDR: Don’t fly through Austin, TX.

10. Choose a long layover

Most people don’t like to spend too much time at airports, but longer layovers mean you have a better chance of making your connection if something goes wrong.

How long should a connection be? My suggestion is to calculate this based on the compensation table below, and the amount of time you expect to have to spend going through security and immigration before getting on your next flight.

First, let’s look at the compensation table. For EU261 to kick in and give you the £500 or so you get for a delay to your journey, the delay needs to be this long:


Flight distance is less than 1,500km         2 hours

Between 1,500km and 3,500km                3 hours

More than 3,500kmq                                    4 hours


Airlines REALLY don’t want to start paying out £500 to hundreds of passengers, so they will bend over backwards to get that plane in the air and get you to your destination before the above deadlines. 

So for a long-haul flight, your layover needs to be over four hours long if you want to give yourself a fighting chance. Of course, once you get to the other end, you’ll want to leave plenty of time to do stuff like get your suitcase (in the case of most American airports, for example), go through immigration and security if necessary, etc..

Unless you know the airport well or have a good reason to believe this will be a breeze, I’d allow 1.5-2 hours for this on the other end. Yes, spending six hours at an airport can be a drag if the best case scenario happens and you’re there on time, but it’s a hell of a lot better than being stranded overnight in some crappy hotel the airline put you up in because you thought a 1.5 hour layover was plenty long enough. Ask me how I know.

11. Keep records of everything

If things do go wrong, you’ll need proof of that, and of the fact you were on the flight. Keep all receipts, boarding passes, emails, screenshots of any flight delay information, and anything else related to your journey. Airlines and travel companies don’t like to pay out, so will use any excuse to avoid doing it. If you’re armed with proof, though, they won’t have a choice if you persist.

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