Delayed Again? Your Flight Survival Kit

6 years ago

No one likes it when their airplane gets opened like a tuna can mid-flight. Just ask the passengers on Southwest who recently went through that harrowing scenario. To add insult to injury, Southwest grounded dozens of planes and canceled hundreds of flights while they scrambled to check for safety issues throughout their fleet.

It doesn't take something as extreme as a plane breaking open to cause flight delays. A missing flight crew, bad weather, or just bad luck can leave you stranded in the purgatory of the airport where time drags on and there's nothing but nitrate-choked fast food nearby for sustenance. It happens to the most organized of travelers, even those with spotless karma. Here's how to make the best out of a bad situation.

Always, always, ALWAYS check your flight status before you head to the airport. It's much better to be stuck outside the airport than in it. Once you're on the other side of security, things become exponentially more complex. Avoiding the trap of the terminal is your best bet, if at all possible. If that's failed, and you're already in airworld, here are a few things you can do to improve your situation.

  • Chill. First and foremost, chill. It's easy to get wrapped up in "Oh-my-god-I-have-to-be home-my-kids-my-deadline-my-boss-me-me-me." You're one of hundreds of people affected by the delay. Your flight is part of a network of flights. Somewhere in, say, Dallas are people who were supposed to get on that plane when you got off it. You're not the only one with kids waiting, a deadline... whatever. So chill.
  • Got a phone? Use it. While you're standing in line at the desk, call the airline's 800 number and explain your situation. You may be rebooked before it's your turn to talk to the harried gate agent.

While other passengers patiently — or not so patiently — waited in line here at the airport, and others around me fumbled to make phone calls, I had a reservations agent on the phone re-booking me and my kids to Denver and ultimately to Orlando. I suppose I could have gotten online and secured mobile boarding passes. Instead I left my kids and our carry-on luggage at the gate, and scooted back to the main ticket counter (before security) and printed out our boarding passes from a kiosk.-- The Vacation Gals

  • Find a better line. If you've got some status, head for the frequent flyer lounge. There are often agents there to help you out. I head back out into the main terminal, before security, and find the shortest at check in. You might find another agent just a few gates down for a flight that's either soon boarding or just finished boarding.
  • Know your alternatives. Sometimes, you need to be the expert. Sad but true. The agent will scramble to put you on what's next or what's easy, which might mean that you end up taking an epic four-stop haul when if you'd waited a day or offered to take the train to Newark, you'd have been out on the next direct flight. If you're not sure what the options are, ask. I once turned down a ten hour stop in Denver. Ten hours in Denver or two in Seattle. Yeah, I'll wait, thanks.
  • Volunteer to be bumped and ask for compensation. It can't hurt. Someone wants that seat more than you do. If you've got flexibility, you might end up with a quiet hotel room and some meal vouchers for a 24 hour delay. If you have overnight or extremely long delays, ask for compensation. It's not always provided, no matter how rightfully you deserve it.
  • Be prepared. You didn't pack your meds or critical paperwork in your checked bag, did you? Of course not. You might have a change of clothes in your carry on, and such extra snacks as the TSA allows you to carry past security. Travel insurance is worth considering as well, you may be able to recoup any personal expenses incurred by the delay if you're insured.
  • Chill. Last, but not least, chill. Yes, yes, yes, it's wildly stressful, it's a huge drag when your flight is canceled or experiences extended delays. Keep in mind that no one wants to be in this situation. Not the flight crew, not the desk agents, not the agent on the phone, not your fellow passengers. No one wants to be in this difficult situation. Be the patient, understanding ray of sunshine when it's your turn to deal with getting rebooked. Know what you want, ask for it, and be polite. Believe, as best you can, that those trying to help you genuinely want to help you. Make it easy for them to do so.

Other helpful links on flight delays:

Nerd's Eye View

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