Your Flight Has Been Canceled or Delayed. What Should You Do?

Under federal law, airlines are obliged to provide a full refund to customers if a flight is significantly delayed and the passenger chooses not to travel. What constitutes a significant delay is determined by the airline, but Mr. Keyes said that two hours is usually a good rule of thumb. You should check your airline’s website for its contract of carriage, which outlines the policies, for more specific information.

If you choose to travel, you should get in line to speak with a gate agent to discuss your options. You’ll typically be placed on the next flight with available seats. You can also call the airline, but considering the long wait times on a lot of U.S. customer service lines, Mr. Keyes recommends trying one of the airline’s international numbers, which are listed on their website’s “contact us” pages and might have a shorter wait.

“You want to make sure you know what the cellphone rates are,” he said, “but if you’re calling Canada, it’s like two cents a minute. It’s going to be a 20-minute call versus a three-hour wait if you’re calling a U.S. hotline. I think it’s worth 40 cents.”

If you booked through an online travel agency, such as Expedia or Orbitz, you will need to call it directly to resolve your issue. “The airline generally won’t want to deal with you,” Mr. Keyes said.

If you choose to keep traveling, you are not entitled to compensation under federal law, but some airlines may offer it if the delay is their fault, such as if it’s caused by a mechanical or staffing issue.

American Airlines, for instance, will arrange an overnight stay for customers whose flight is delayed and does not board before midnight on the scheduled arrival day, said Andrea Koos, a spokeswoman for American Airlines.

JetBlue offers compensation for flights delayed three or more hours, from $50 to $200, depending on the length of the delay. If your flight was booked directly through the airline, it will email you within seven days of the flight’s scheduled departure to provide instructions for receiving compensation, according to its Customer Bill of Rights. If you booked through a third party, such as Expedia or Orbitz, you’ll need to call that company’s customer service line to ask for potential compensation.