United Flight Delays: What to Do, How to Protect Yourself

United isn't required to compensate for delayed flights, so it's best to have independent trip delay insurance.
Josh Garber
By Josh Garber 
Edited by Meg Lee

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The chances of your flight being delayed have steadily increased in the United States. The news isn't great if you frequently fly United Airlines: Roughly 1 in 5 United flights has been delayed so far in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Since your chances of ending up on a delayed flight are 20%, let's look at how United handles delays, how to get compensation for delayed United flights and what steps you can take to minimize disruptions.

What United considers a flight delay

United's website mentions delays of one hour or longer as the cut-off for getting travel help from its agents. It recommends seeking assistance from the United app, its website (united.com/checkin) or an airport kiosk.

The airline provides guidance if your flight is delayed overnight: "Talk to a customer service agent about your overnight options. Although we don't provide free hotel stays if your flight is delayed or canceled for reasons outside our control, we may be able to get you discounted hotel stays and free toiletries if you can't get to your checked bags for the evening."

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United compensation for delayed flight

Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation does not require airlines to compensate passengers for delayed flights, and United has no policy of compensating passengers if their flight is delayed.

Suppose a flight delay impacts your travel enough that you'd rather postpone or cancel your trip. In that case, you may request a refund or travel credit for your ticket, even if the fare typically has restrictions on changes or cancellations. The amount of credit or refund you receive will depend on how much of your trip you've already completed.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If your United flight departing Europe is delayed, you might qualify for the EC 261/2004 flight compensation regulation. Customers are eligible for this compensation if their flight is delayed or canceled and they fly out of a European Union country or European Economic Area, which includes non-EU members like Iceland or Norway. Compensation varies.

Even so, you can request delayed flight compensation from United by contacting the airline through its Customer Care webpage. It's helpful to share details of additional costs you incurred or other issues that came up because of your flight delay — such as needing to pay for a hotel out-of-pocket or missing a connecting flight. Keep in mind that any compensation provided is at United's discretion and is not guaranteed.

What United will provide if a delay occurs

Although your options will vary depending on the length of your delay and the alternative travel options available, if your flight is delayed, United may:

  • Automatically rebook you on a different flight or allow you to rebook yourself.

  • Give you the ability to join a standby list on an earlier flight, free of charge.

  • Allow you to switch your flight to another nearby airport (e.g., instead of flying into Newark, fly into New York-LaGuardia).

  • Provide a discounted or free hotel stay and toiletries if your flight is delayed until the next day.

If you have checked luggage and switched flights, United will ensure that your bags get to where you're going — although they may arrive earlier or later than you will. Talk to an airport customer service agent to ensure you know when and where to collect your bags.

How to protect yourself

From obtaining travel insurance to packing your bags to choosing flights, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself in case you run into a United flight delay.

Make sure you have trip delay protection

A great way to protect yourself is by ensuring trip delay insurance coverage. You can do this one of two ways.

The first method is purchasing your United flight with a travel credit card that includes trip delay insurance coverage. Some cards with this coverage include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, American Express® Gold Card and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Terms apply.

Your coverage limits will depend on the policy of the card you use, but you may be able to recoup some of your out-of-pocket expenses caused by the delay — at no additional cost to you.

Another option is to purchase trip delay insurance as part of a travel insurance policy, such as those sold through Allianz Travel or AIG Travel Guard. You can also compare policies from different providers by checking out a travel insurance aggregator such as Squaremouth.

Only fly with carry-on luggage

Checked luggage can create added complications and stress if your United flight is delayed. For instance, if you need to switch your flight at the last minute, your luggage may not arrive at the same time as you.

Or, if your new flight is the next day, you may not have access to your bags overnight. By flying with only carry-on luggage, you won't risk being without your baggage or wondering if it'll arrive when you do.

If you cannot travel without a checked bag, pack essential medications, documents and a change of clothes in your carry-on, just in case you're separated from your bags longer than anticipated.

Avoid tight connections

If you're booking a United flight with a connection, you should avoid itineraries with very short layovers, as you're more likely to miss your connecting flight. As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to avoid booking flights where the connection time is less than an hour.

Final thoughts on United flight delays

You should always have a plan in case your flight is delayed. Although United is not required to give you compensation for a flight delay, you may be able to receive some form of remuneration by contacting United customer service.

Other ways to make travel a bit easier, especially if your flight is delayed, include traveling with carry-on luggage only, ensuring trip delay insurance coverage and avoiding tight connections.

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