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

Book strategically and pay with a credit card that offers trip delay insurance to soften the blow of a flight delay.
Josh Garber
By Josh Garber 
Edited by Meg Lee

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As much as we like to travel, we also recognize that flight delays are a part of traveling by air. Case in point: 81% of flights recorded an on-time arrival in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Since chances are good that you’ll run into a delay sooner or later, it’s helpful to know how to protect yourself when unexpected travel disruptions happen. Even better, there are things you can do when booking to increase your chances of an on-time flight.

If you’re traveling on United Airlines soon, find out how you can avoid United flight delays and what to do if you unexpectedly encounter one.

Check your flight’s on-time performance

Before you book any flight, it’s a good idea to find out whether it’s generally on time or often delayed. Two websites to try are flightaware.com and flightstats.com.

We’ll use flightstats.com to look at United flight 2213 from Los Angeles to Newark. After inputting the flight name and information into the site and clicking “On-time performance,” you’ll see the flight’s rating for the previous two months.

This flight arrived when it was supposed to 68% of the time over the past two months. If you scroll down further, the website lets you know that the average delay was 36 minutes.

Flightaware.com has a useful tool that lets you view up to three months of detailed flight history, including actual take-off and landing times. Here’s a snapshot of United flight 2213’s performance history from flightaware.com:

Using sites like flightaware.com and flightstats.com before you book a trip is a great way to avoid ending up on flights that are often delayed — saving you from the hassle of delays before even stepping foot in the airport.

Choose your connecting airports carefully

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps a list of the best and worst major airports for on-time departures and on-time arrivals.

Before booking a United flight with a connection, you should check the list and, if possible, avoid airports that rank poorly for on-time departures and on-time arrivals.

In 2020, airports that ranked poorly for both on-time departures and on-time arrivals include:

  • Newark (81.6% on-time departure, 80.6% on-time arrival).

  • Chicago-O’Hare (84.5% on-time departure, 84.3% on-time arrival).

Airports that ranked on the higher end for on-time departures and on-time arrivals in 2020 include:

  • Seattle-Tacoma (87.4% on-time departure, 86.4% on-time arrival).

  • Los Angeles (86.7% on-time departure, 86.2% on-time arrival).

By planning your connection in airports that have a good history of on-time departures and arrivals, you can avoid or minimize United flight delays.

Have a plan for dealing with flight delays

No matter how often you travel, you should always have a backup plan so you know what to do in case your flight is delayed.

If you have a short layover, you should find out what other flights go to your final destination from your connecting airport, in case you miss the connection and have to be rebooked.

We also recommend researching which lounges and amenities are available at the airports you’ll be flying out of or connecting through. Bring a few items that can help you pass the time if there's a long delay. A good book or your favorite shows downloaded onto a tablet are always a safe bet, and they don’t rely on airports’ sometimes unreliable WiFi.

While it’s certainly preferable for your flight to depart on time, being prepared for delays can make it less stressful if you do encounter one.

Earn elite status on United

If you’re able to earn elite status with United, you’ll have access to United’s Premier Priority Desk, which generally provides quicker access to a customer service representative. The Premier Priority Desk can also help re-accommodate you in case your flight is delayed.

Another way that having elite status can help with delays is that if you hold United Premier Gold status or higher and are flying internationally, you’ll receive complimentary lounge access. This can be a great place to pass the time until your flight departs.

Book your flight with a card that offers trip delay protection

Another way to protect yourself in case of delays is to book your flight on a card that provides trip delay protection. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides coverage for lodging and meals if your flight is delayed by 12 hours or more or requires an overnight stay.

Here are some other travel cards that come with trip delay protection:

Terms apply.

Booking your travel with a card that offers trip delay protection is a great way to protect yourself financially in case your flight is delayed.

Consider a separate travel insurance policy

If your credit card coverage isn't enough or you want to take a step further in customizing your protections for United flight delays, consider investing in a standalone travel insurance policy. This coverage is designed to reimburse you for eligible costs if your trip doesn't go as planned.

You can purchase a travel insurance policy directly through an insurance agency. Another option is to use an insurance comparison tool to compare the prices of different policies from various insurance agencies.

Compare costs and policy details to ensure your needs are met.

What to do if you encounter United flight delays

Although flight delays are a part of air travel, there are steps you can take to protect yourself in the event your United flight is delayed. These include checking the on-time history for your flights and connecting airports, using a card that offers trip delay protection and taking advantage of the Premier Priority Desk if you have elite status. By minimizing the impact of a United flight delay, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip with fewer headaches.

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How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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