How to handle a cancelled flight when traveling with kids

Traveling with kids is hard. Throw in a cancelled flight with kids and you just landed in your own personal nightmare. While flying from Philadelphia to Seattle a few years back our flight got cancelled close to midnight and we ended up sleeping in the airport with a baby and toddler. Not ideal, but we learned a lot. The biggest was to always have an emergency travel budget for a hotel room. Other lessons included staying calm, understanding our rights, knowing what flying standby for families actually means, and having a good attitude can go a long way.

What to do when face a cancelled flight with kids

Stay calm and don’t even think about yelling at the airplane gate agents. It is not their fault. They are simply the messengers. These airline employees now have to stay late to help you get rebooked. There have been times that I have gotten to the counter very frustrated, but I reassure them that I know it is not their fault, I’m frustrated, but I know they are too, so let’s see how we can get this settled.

I’m a family of four, which is a nightmare in rebooking terms because instead of booking one seat for one person, they now have to find me four seats on the next available flight. You think your life is hard? Try making over a hundred-people happy and squeezing them onto new planes that are probably already overbooked.

How to get rebooked quickly

When your flight is cancelled you will be asked to get into a rebooking line. Get in that line, BUT get on the phone with the airline the second your flight gets cancelled. More often than not the agent on the phone has been able to help me more quickly than the line has moved. I am running through the airport to my new flight before the people in front of me even know the plane has seats available.

Flying standby

Get your rebooked seat, but also ask if you can fly standby with no fees on an earlier flight as well. If you have your entire family with you this can be tricky. If your flight gets cancelled at night, you may be able to fly standby on the early morning flight. Morning flights are less likely to be cancelled and tend to have more seats available (sometimes).

Getting seated with your kids

When rebooking a flight, be aware that you may not get seats together with your kids. Don’t get angry. This is when the gate agents and flight attendants may be the only ones who can help you. Be kind, smile and be ready to beg your fellow passengers to swap seats. If you have two parents and two kids traveling together, do not try to all sit together. One parent and one child seated together will have to be good enough. Take what you can get and keep smiling. Don’t let this ruin your trip.

When the airline owes you a meal or hotel

Meal and hotel vouchers are a tricky thing these days. Obviously, the airline loses money every time they hand them out, so they are careful with when they give them to passengers.

Generally, if your flight is cancelled due to weather, you don’t get vouchers. Acts of God and all don’t fall under the airline’s control. Mechanical difficulties are when the airline should put you up in a hotel for the night and/or give you meal vouchers for the inconvenience.

Weather and mechanical issues are you two biggest reasons for cancellations, and for good reason. No one wants to travel on a broken plane or be struck out of the sky by lightning, right? Crews timing out and other random reasons to cancel a flight are a different story, which is why we always have an emergency travel fund on hand. You just don’t want to count on the airline to take care of you.

Emergency travel budget

Never is it more important to have a few hundred dollars or an emergency credit card ready to grab a hotel room so you don’t have to sleep in the airport. We could have easily grabbed a hotel room when we were stuck in Philadelphia. Since we were trying to fly standby on a very early flight out, we opted to just crash in the airport since we would have spent over $200 for less than five hours in a hotel room. Looking back, we should have spent the money. You live and learn when you are traveling with kids, especially babies and toddlers.

Pack Right

Last but not least, one of the best tricks to flying with kids starts with packing right. This is also the case when your flight is cancelled. Make sure you have your necessities on hand and not packed in your checked bags. If your face a cancelled flight with kids, you might not get it back until you get to your final destination. Make sure you have pack these must-haves for your kids:

  • Favorite stuffed animal or lovies
  • Diapers and wipes for at least one full day
  • One change of clothes
  • Activities: crayons and a notebook, Kindle Fire, travel magnetic games, fidget sticks, etc.
  • Three small toys that can fit in a quart-size bag

Baby play at airport window and dream of flying via This post may contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links I will receive a small commission.

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1 thought on “How to handle a cancelled flight when traveling with kids”

  1. Mom

    Most often, I have traveled alone for business. Never with kids. But, this is advice is great for everyone! I had my corporate credit card to take care of my extra expenses, but that doesn’t help with family travel. AndtThe extra tips for being prepared with all your children’s necessities are very good ones. I always kept my “extras” in my carry-on, also.

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