Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night keeps a mail carrier from sticking to her delivery schedule. Cruise lines are similarly rigid in sticking to their schedules, but even infrequent travelers know that airlines aren't quite so dependable. When inclement weather or other delays strand you in an airport far from the port, your cruise ship will still depart on time. Cruisers who miss their departures have a few options. None of them are ideal, but it might still be possible to salvage the trip and board the ship a day or two later. Travelers who can't make that happen and turn around to head home may be able to get some money back.

I'm Missing My Cruise. Now What?

Upon realizing a flight delay is going to make it impossible to make a cruise, jump into action immediately. If you booked the flights through the airline (as opposed to through the cruise line), talk to an airline representative about the possibility of switching to another flight. Long lines tend to form quickly at the gate agents' desks when a delay is announced. Join the line but call the airline's help number while waiting in case it's faster to reach a customer service agent by phone.

If the delay is weather-related, switching to an earlier flight is unlikely to happen, especially if all flights coming in and out of the airport are delayed or grounded. In that case, move right to the second step: calling the cruise line. Some carriers, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, have teams in place who specialize in helping cruisers deal with travel emergencies. They can't work miracles, but the cruise line's agents can help figure out a plan for meeting the ship at its first port. If you've purchased flights through the cruise line, agents may also be able to work on getting you rebooked.

During major storms, it's sometimes clear that getting out on any flight won't happen for a few days. In that case, cruise line agents can provide information about canceling the trip. Getting a refund may not be possible for cruisers who didn't purchase trip insurance.

Pre-Cruise Protection Options

Cruise companies always recommend that travelers arrive in the departure city the day before a cruise for exactly this reason. But even on the day before the cruise, not all flights are equal. If possible, book morning flights. When delays do happen, they create a domino effect that causes later flights to be pushed back or canceled altogether. By the time a late afternoon or evening flight is delayed or canceled, few other options are available. At least when a morning flight is canceled, you have all day to try to find another way to the destination.

Some cruise lines offer flight services that include late-arrival protection. Carriers including Princess and Cunard have these programs. Book the cruise and flight together and the company will guarantee that it will get you to your cruise, even if that means flying you to a port city to meet the ship partway through its voyage.

Especially for winter cruises, when weather wreaks havoc on many parts of the U.S., consider buying trip insurance. What's included varies by company, but insurance may cover the costs associated with flying to meet the ship at its next port of call. When meeting the ship isn't possible, having insurance gets you a refund. Knowing that you'll get your money back should soften the disappointment that comes with missing a cruise.