The frustration of flight delays and cancellations

I recently read a story by Lee Tulloch in the Traveller liftout section of Melbourne’s Age newspaper about her tarmac-related experience. This prompted me to tell you about our similar experience coming home from San Francisco to Melbourne. It is a story of frustration and anxiety, particularly annoying for us, because it happened near the end of a two-month getaway. 


Our story begins 24 hours before takeoff. We are flying with United Airlines because it offers a direct flight from San Francisco to Melbourne. Most other airlines fly via LAX, Auckland or Sydney. From a previous bad experience, we particularly wanted to avoid the awful Sydney international to domestic transition. 

I go online within the 24-hour check-in time to find that our flight has been cancelled. We had received no email from United alerting us to this fact. Oh well, at least they have rescheduled our flight – but alas, from SFO to MEL via Sydney, the very scenario we wanted to avoid.

The flight leaves at 11pm, so we make our way to the airport with loads of time to spare. The check-in is smooth, and the staff are pleasant. We have paid for extra legroom seats for this 15-hour journey. The one-way cost is A$2485 each, which includes A$300+ each for extra legroom seats. This is super expensive, but unfortunately the airlines have you by the short and curlies, with different purchase conditions and one-way add-ons for foreigners. 

We are on the tarmac and all passengers are seated. The doors are locked on this full flight, and we’re ready to go. After half an hour we hear: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are having some operational issues but expect to depart shortly. Thank you for your patience.”

We wait and wait, and wait! People are getting fidgety and annoyed. Two hours later the dreaded announcement is made. “This is your captain … operational issues … this flight has been cancelled.” It’s 1am and people are tired and frustrated. 

We head to United’s check-in counter and line up for another two hours waiting for staff to rebook us. It’s a very slow process but people are incredibly calm. Everything is closed and we seem to be the only lot in the terminal. A trolley is wheeled out with free water and snacks. We scoff energy bars to boost our reserves.

Eventually, we are provided with nearby basic overnight accommodation, food vouchers (US$30 each) and Uber transfers. It’s 4am by the time we get to our lodging. After a few hours’ sleep there is a text waiting to inform us that the flight we were supposed to be on has been cancelled. This is doing our heads in. We arrive late at the breakfast room and manage to grab some leftovers from the buffet.

After recharging, I am on the phone to United for almost two hours and, bingo, our rebooked flights are direct to Melbourne. United has provided an extra night in the hotel, so we are able to nap during the day and head to the airport once again. This time it’s smooth sailing and we depart on time at 11pm. We are in the air, and I am celebrating my birthday with a late dinner and a glass of wine. At least there’s something to feel good about after our cancellation issues. 

Although we lost a day because of cancellations (operational issues … oh yeah!), we found United staff to be friendly, courteous and professional throughout check-in, boarding and in-flight. On board, the meals were of a reasonable quality, served with free wine, and there were always water and snacks available. We would recommend the extra legroom seats, which made for a relatively comfortable flight.

I guess you can never be sure of cancellations and/or delays when you book flights. You just have to stay calm and fly on – even if it makes you frustrated and anxious.

Have you ever had a flight cancelled at short notice? What was your experience? Why not share it in the comments section below?

Also read: Worst airports for flight delays and cancellations


  1. The Australian government should legislate that compensation be paid for all delayed or cancelled flights based on the EU and American policies.
    Airlines will not introduce any policy themselves that takes away their immunity to legal or compensation payments. The airlines have a couldn’t care less attitude towards customers and travelers. Time for change

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