A Guide to IRROPS: How to Handle Flight Delays & Cancellations

As you fly around the world, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into IRROPS, which is a fancy acronym for irregular operations. This is aviation lingo for any kind of flight delay or cancellation that can affect your trip, be it the result of weather, maintenance, crew issues, ATC issues, or any other factor.

A delayed or cancelled flight can result in a missed connection or a late arrival into your destination or back to your home base. Moreover, if you arrive late to your destination, you could also incur damages from any non-refundable bookings you’ve made, such as hotels, tours, or activities. 

If you travel often, it’s hugely beneficial for you to get familiar with the best strategies for handling IRROPS, both in terms of finding solutions quickly when you’re in the midst of the situation, and getting reimbursed for any damages after the fact.

The former allows you to take initiative for yourself instead of waiting for the airline to take care of things for you, and can even be a hidden opportunity to improve your trip by getting better aircraft, routings, or timings. Meanwhile, the latter ensures that you’re made whole for any damages you’ve suffered, especially in the face of an airline industry that’s not always the most willing to own up to its mistakes. 

In This Post

Before IRROPS: Strategies for Anticipating Delays

The best way to deal with IRROPS is if you can proactively avoid it in the first place, or take advance steps to make your life easier in the event that IRROPS does occur. 

The anticipatory strategies begin with choosing the right credit card on which to make your booking. Most premium travel credit cards will provide a pretty strong travel insurance coverage on any flights booked directly using the card, including benefits like flight delay compensation and trip interruption insurance.

However, if you’re booking a flight on points, you’ll want to understand which credit cards provide insurance on award travel, as there are quite a few subtleties between the major credit cards in terms of when the coverage kicks in. For example, the Amex Platinum’s strong insurance package won’t apply to your flight booked on Aeroplan miles, even if you charge the taxes and fees to the card – you’ll have to use the TD or CIBC Aeroplan-branded cards for that, or the BMO World Elite cards, which cover award tickets booked using any type of points currency.

Once your flight is booked using the right credit card, you now have the peace of mind knowing that you can make some insurance claims in case that IRROPS does affect your travel plans. The next step is to monitor your itinerary in the days and hours leading up to your flight, to watch out for any potential interruptions that you can spot early on.

For example, in the case of widespread issues affecting a particular airport or region (think inclement weather or mass civil disobedience), airlines often issue travel waivers that allow passengers to make changes to their plans at no cost. Making alternative plans during these periods can allow you to avoid a major headache later on along your travels.

Meanwhile, in the hours leading up to the flight, you can check the airline’s app or search up your flight number on Google, where any delays or cancellations are often posted a few hours in advance. The earlier you spot the case of IRROPS and make alternative arrangements, the better – you’d hate to be arriving at the airport to find your travel plans in tatters, with no choice but to swarm the ticketing desk with the rest of the crowd.


During IRROPS: Strategies for Finding Alternatives

So IRROPS has reared its ugly head, and your flight plans have been struck with a delay or a cancellation. Now what?

In the case of a cancellation or a significant delay, the airline often proactively books you on an alternative flight, which may depart later that day or the day after. Sometimes they’ll put you on an alternative routing through a different airport, or a flight operated by one of its airline partners, or both.

Either way, if you’re happy with these alternative arrangements, you don’t really need to do anything besides double-checking your reservation to verify your new flight details.

However, if you’re unhappy with these alternative plans in any way, or if you think you could do better (which is quite likely!), then it’s time to take matters into your own hands. When IRROPS strikes, the airline is obligated to rebook you to your destination, and can leverage any available seats on any flights within its interline partner network to do so.

They may not proactively want to do so, since rebooking on partner airlines tends to be more complicated than rebooking on their own metal, but that’s where you come in.

A situation like this is where the US$100/year fee on ExpertFlyer can basically pay for itself. There are two main features that you’ll find especially helpful in dealing with IRROPs.

First, ExpertFlyer allows you to figure out which airlines have interline agreements with the airline you’re travelling on – any such partnership means that the airline is able to rebook you on its interline partner in the event of IRROPS. Note that interline partnerships usually extend beyond the three major airline alliances – it’s quite common for, say, a Star Alliance airline to have interline agreements in place with several Oneworld and SkyTeam airlines.

Use the Interline Agreements tab, under the Travel Information search function on the sidebar, and look up the airline you’re travelling with. If an airline shows up under the E-Ticket Interline Agreements heading, you’ll be able to ask to be rebooked on one of their flights in the event of IRROPS.

Now that you know which partner airlines you can use, you also need to find out which flights and routings have available seats in your chosen class of service, before approaching the IRROPS-affected airline to ask to be rebooked. After all, it’s no use asking for a certain flight if all the seats have already been occupied by paying passengers.

For this, use the Flight Availability search function to search for the specific flights in question. If you’re travelling in business class, you’ll usually be looking at the “J”, “C”, “D”, or “P” fare buckets, whereas if you’re travelling in economy you’ll be looking at the “Y” fare bucket or anything after that. 

If the number of open seats corresponds with the number of passengers in your party, then you know you can ask to be rebooked on that flight. So for example, if you’re travelling as a couple in business class, you’d be looking for flights that have at least “J2”, “C2”, etc.

Don’t be afraid to leverage your knowledge of airline routes in this situation. If you were booked to travel from Toronto to Warsaw on LOT Polish Airlines, for example, you could ask LOT to rebook you on a combination of an Air Canada flight to Zurich, followed by a Swiss flight to Warsaw, availability permitting. Remember, in the case of IRROPS, there are no change fees or fuel surcharges or anything. 

This is also a potential opportunity to change your itinerary to a more favourable one, if desired. You could ask for a direct flight if you were originally booked with a connection, potentially getting you to your destination at an earlier time. Or you could pick and choose your airline to get on a better business class product or try a new one, all without having to pay any change fees. If treated with the correct mindset, IRROPS can indeed be a wonderful blessing in disguise for a savvy traveller.

Once you’ve figured out your desired alternative routing, it’s time to approach the airline to make your wishes known. Be smart about this: if you see a huge crowd by the airline ticketing desk, don’t waste your time there – give the airline a call instead. If the hold times are unbearable (as is often the case if you’re flying Air Canada during the winter), try reaching out over social media.

There is no need to be upset…

There is no need to be upset…

If you have lounge access, head to the concierge desk within the airline’s lounge, because the agents there can usually handle ticketing as well. And if you have any kind of elite status with the airline (even if it’s lower-tier Silver status), throw your weight around and insist that you should take priority over the rest of the rabble. 

Irrespective of where the conversation takes place, it’s important to approach the airline representative with a calm and collaborative attitude.

Pear-shaped travel plans can certainly arouse strong emotions within people, but letting those emotions loose will get you nowhere. Instead, your approach should be focused on working together with the agent to find solutions, and you should emphasize the fact that you’ve already found an alternative solution that would work best for you, and you’d simply like the agent’s help in implementing it. 

A Few Examples

Last year, I was scheduled to fly to Moscow for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I was booked on Lufthansa business class to Frankfurt, followed by two flights on Adria Airways via Ljubljana to Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO).

My Lufthansa flight ended up being significantly delayed, so I had missed my connection by the time I arrived in Frankfurt. I discovered I had been proactively rebooked by Lufthansa on their next flight out Moscow Domodedovo Airport (DME) instead.

Normally I would’ve been grateful for the more convenient journey, but the problem was that I had a non-refundable hotel booked at the Holiday Inn Express at SVO, and was going to pick up Jessy at the same airport later that night. Going to DME would therefore entail an expensive and unnecessary crosstown taxi ride.

In my bid to look for solutions, I first researched how I could get myself from Frankfurt to SVO, and saw that Aeroflot, the Russian carrier, operated a direct flight. Next, I pulled up the Interline Agreements tab in ExpertFlyer and found that Lufthansa and Aeroflot do indeed have an interline partnership in place.

Lastly, I looked at Flight Availability, and saw that there were a few business class seats on the next Aeroflot flight out to SVO. Armed with this knowledge, I approached the Lufthansa ticketing desk, thanked them for proactively rebooking me to DME, but explained that I wanted to get on Aeroflot’s flight to SVO instead.

Aeroflot’s surprisingly nice intra-Europe business class

Aeroflot’s surprisingly nice intra-Europe business class

While the agent was initially reluctant and tried to persuade me that Lufthansa had already fulfilled its obligations in getting me to Moscow, I insisted that they should be able to book on Aeroflot as well, and that it’d be much more convenient for me. Eventually, the agent was willing to put me on the Aeroflot flight departing in an hour, so I mad-dashed over to the other terminal and made it onboard.

Similarly, a friend of mine was recently involuntarily bumped from a flight and rebooked for the next day. In addition to collecting the compensation for the bump, he also looked on ExpertFlyer for an interline partner that operated the same route with space available, and was able to get on that flight and return home half a day earlier. 

After IRROPS: Strategies for Seeking Compensation

You should also be familiar with the various ways of seeking reimbursement for damages incurred as a result of IRROPs after-the-fact. There are several different legal and commercial channels through which you can do so, so I’ll quickly recap each one.

The European Union’s EC261 is the most well-known example of a legal ruling obligating airlines to compensate passengers in the case of IRROPs as a result of factors within the airline’s control. If you’re flying within Europe on any airline, into Europe on a EU-based airline, or out of Europe on any airline, then you are entitled to up to €600 per person in compensation, depending on the distance of your scheduled flight:

There are several more conditions and exceptions governing EC261, which you can view on the EU’s website.

Note that airlines aren’t always cooperative about paying out this compensation, and some airlines will even lie to your face and blame the delay on factors outside of their control when in fact they should be paying up. Threaten legal action if necessary, but don’t relent until you’re paid the compensation you’re due.

Canada has also recently implemented a similar set of new Air Passenger Protection Regulations, which will kick in on December 15, 2019, but the big difference from the EU is that Canada’s regulations only requires compensation to be paid when the cause of the delay is within the airline’s control and not related to safety.

Guess what? Every airline can therefore blame their delays on mechanical issues which are related to safety, so it remains to be seen how effectively this compensation mechanism will work. 

Besides the legal avenues, you can also cite the specific airline’s tariff, which outlines some of the key provisions that the airline must deliver in the case of controllable delays. Examples might include meal vouchers and overnight lodging, and you can present the airline staff with the tariff in case these provisions aren’t being handed out. 

Note that all of the above does not apply if the delay is a result of an uncontrollable factor, like inclement weather. And those situations are why you should also have travel insurance, whether it comes as a perk on your credit card or you purchased it separately. 

As we discussed above, if you make sure your credit card provides insurance at the time of booking, you can go about any delays and cancellations with the peace of mind that you’ll be reimbursed for any food, taxis, or overnight accommodations you must book as a result of IRROPS, even if the airline isn’t obligated to make you whole.

Lastly, if you ever need any help along the process of seeking compensation for IRROPS, the Air Passenger Rights (Canada) Facebook group is a fantastic resource. Gabor Lukacs, the founder, is doing excellent work defending the rights of his fellow Canadian travellers, so I’d highly recommend posting in the group to seek advice if you need it.


Flight delays and cancellations are going to happen sooner or later along your travels, and the best way to deal with them is to fully equip yourself with knowledge on how to pre-empt, deal with, and ensure you are fully compensated for IRROPS when they do occur. By learning and implementing the strategies in this article, you can hopefully come out of your next IRROPS experience with less headache and a more pleasant journey (and perhaps even a nice chunk of cash in your bank account!) 

  1. Alex YYZ

    Hey Ricky,
    Just stumbled upon this old post.
    It was very informative and valuable back in the day.
    Any plans to refresh it – to add all the COVID related issues?

  2. Martin

    This is a great post, Ricky, and a "genre" of post that fits really well alongside your usual points-focused writing!

    I would love to read more about you recounting an actual IRROPS scenario and how you went about handling it, especially when it comes to making claims via the insurance included on Amex cards (seems very murky).

  3. Eric

    Thanks again Ricky for a concise, usable article.

  4. Alex YWG

    I find that for the Canadian airlines that WestJet is so much better at taking care of customers than Air Canada. I have flown multiple times with both airlines and WJ has compensated me always and in some cases even when I did not ask or expect a compensation. My Flight from Las Vegas was delayed by several hours, when I landed I got a $100 voucher on my WJ account.
    Another time someone had taken my luggage but returned 45mins later and picked up their correct one. I did not ask or expect anything since it was not WJ’s fault but they gave me a voucher as well.

    Dont want to write a novel on my AC experience but they definitely could learn from WJ customer service. I asked them to pay for half my out of pocket expenses, or refund me half my flight cost or give me the equivalent in AP which is 12,500. They did neither but gave me a 25% coupon code on a AC base fare flight, which is pretty useless imo.

    I did manage to rebook my flight on my own by being in line and calling the customer service number. I got a flight that evening instead of the rebooked flight 3 days later.

  5. Justin

    Hi Ricky: This is such a helpful post. I recently booked my first ticket on points, but now I regret that I hadn’t given much thought to trip interruption/cancellation insurance. At the time of booking, I simply used my default card to cover the taxes and fees, only to discover later that it doesn’t have this type of insurance. Now that the ticket is booked, what (if any) options do I have for trip interruption/cancellation insurance? Cheers, Justin.

    1. Ricky YVR

      The only option now is to purchase insurance separately. May be worth it for the peace of mind especially if it’s a large trip with lots of flights on the itinerary.

  6. Rich

    Great article full of useful tips and solutions. Thanks!

  7. John Bucher

    A very pertinent article considering Canadian airline’s scheduling problems due to 737 Max situation and the fact that we are entering a busy fall and winter of travel with all the potential troubles that may ensue.

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