How to Avoid Being Stranded at the Airport

How to avoid being stranded in the airport, in the US, an increasing number of flights are canceled or delayed on a regular basis, this is a becoming a common problem more travelers have to face. This winter’s severe snowstorms caused thousands of flights to be canceled costing the airlines an estimated $150 million in losses, and leaving tens of thousands of people waiting in airports. Waiting in an airport for hours and sometimes days, hoping for a flight out but not guaranteed anything, is extremely unpleasant.

In the European Union, airlines are responsible to give their passengers accommodation or food vouchers if they have an overnight delay which is caused by circumstances that are beyond the control of the airline, this is not true in the US.

There are several ways to minimize the risk of being stranded in an airport, but there are no guarantees. Most people don’t think about being stranded in an airport before they even buy their ticket, but there are precautions you can take at that time.

  • Always buy tickets for a direct flight that does not have any connecting flights in the middle. This greatly reduces the chance that the connection will be delayed and you have to wait for it. You may have to wait in your home or at your destination, if flights are delayed or canceled, but this is better than in an uncomfortable airport.
  • Always buy tickets for early flights. They have the best chance of not being delayed or canceled. The later in the day the departure time, the more chance for delay and cancelation.
  • Always use the same airline if possible. If you have frequent-flyer membership with an airline, they know you are a regular customer and may be more willing to help you make changes or rebook you on another flight.
  • Always buy travel insurance. There is much more to travel insurance that coverage for adventurous vacations. It will protect you if you miss a nonrefundable group tour. AccessAmerica is an online agent that will book travel insurance even one day in advance of your trip. Policies start at about $60. These packages will pay you $150 per day for each person if you are stranded at an airport overnight.

There are also several things you can do before you even leave home to minimize the possibility of being stranded at an airport.

  • Be in constant contact with flight times. You can find any delays or cancelations on the airlines website or look on fly.faa.gov for any delay information in real time. FlightBoard is a good mobile app if you travel often. It will give updates on flight times in over 4000 airports every five minutes.
  • If you can, check-in online. This can usually be done 24 hours in advance of the flight time and will ensure you a seat if other flights are canceled and people are trying to get on yours.
  • When you see the weather turning bad and snowstorms are predicted, change to another day for your travel. Ask if the airlines will waive change fees. They may if delays look likely.
  • Pack light. One carry-on bag could save you from lost luggage as well as baggage fees. It will make you versatile if you are switched to another airline with only a few minutes notice. Also, if you are stranded in an airport, you will have your toothbrush and a change of clothes.
  • Keep the toll-free phone numbers of the airlines you are using in your wallet or purse. This will save time and trouble if there is a delay or cancelation.
  • Bring something to eat with you to the airport. A sandwich or trail mix will do. Food at airports is expensive, and if there are delays, the lines could be hours long.

Once you find yourself stranded at an airport, try to get as much information about the situation as you can. Then you can make an informed judgment about what to do next.

With knowledge of other airlines’ status from the monitors, from the FlightBoard app or from calling the airlines, you can speak to an airline representative and be clear about what you want.

Tweets from the airport are sometimes given priority. Some people have gotten rebooked very quickly through Twitter.

Remember the 240 Rule. It states that an airline must put you on another airline if the reason for delay or cancelation is caused by the airline. Airline staff may be surprised that you know it, but they are obligated to accommodate you.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Staeiou

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