9 Insider Tips for Navigating an Outrageously Long Flight Delay

Discover time-tested tricks for handling dreaded delays and disruptions.

U.S. News & World Report

9 Insider Tips for Navigating an Outrageously Long Flight Delay

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Use these techniques to minimize headache-inducing scenarios.

When inclement weather, mechanical malfunctions and other nuisances affect your travel plans, it can be challenging to pivot quickly and get your schedule (and sanity) on track. Let's face it: Even if you're an experienced flier, patience can start to waver after sitting in a crowded terminal for several hours. "There's not a lot you can do, other than make yourself comfortable with a book or podcast if you're stuck in the airport," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "But you can do the footwork in advance to minimize your chances of getting stuck," Klee explains. That's why U.S. News pinpointed eight clever tricks for making a dreaded situation more bearable.
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Think ahead.

Staying prepared can go a long way. "When you get that alert via email or text that tells you to reconfirm 24 hours prior to travel, do it," Klee says. If you're flying into a destination that's prone to weather-related delays, keep close tabs on your notifications, Klee adds. Also consider calling your airline if you're concerned about an impending storm. "In some cases, they may be able to reroute you to avoid bad weather, usually at no additional charge," Klee explains. Checking your departure status before you leave home can also help you get a head start in the event you need to rebook quickly.
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Use these techniques to minimize headache-inducing scenarios.

When inclement weather, mechanical malfunctions and other nuisances affect your travel plans, it can be challenging to pivot quickly and get your schedule (and sanity) on track. Let's face it: Even if you're an experienced flier, patience can start to waver after sitting in a crowded terminal for several hours. "There's not a lot you can do, other than make yourself comfortable with a book or podcast if you're stuck in the airport," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "But you can do the footwork in advance to minimize your chances of getting stuck," Klee explains. That's why U.S. News pinpointed eight clever tricks for making a dreaded situation more bearable.

Think ahead.

Staying prepared can go a long way. "When you get that alert via email or text that tells you to reconfirm 24 hours prior to travel, do it," Klee says. If you're flying into a destination that's prone to weather-related delays, keep close tabs on your notifications, Klee adds. Also consider calling your airline if you're concerned about an impending storm. "In some cases, they may be able to reroute you to avoid bad weather, usually at no additional charge," Klee explains. Checking your departure status before you leave home can also help you get a head start in the event you need to rebook quickly.

Download essential apps.

Carrying a few critical tools, particularly tracking apps, is essential to getting around your terminal with ease and staying looped in on the latest flight alerts, explains Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. He recommends tapping into FlightAware to stay attuned to any updates and TripIt Pro to receive real-time notifications, search for alternative routes and assess if you qualify for a refund. Freebird is another handy tool to keep in your back pocket, Spagnola says. With Freebird, you can rebook your flight within 30 seconds and enjoy the added convenience of not dealing with a customer service agent, he explains.

Be a self-starter.

After confirming that your flight is delayed or canceled, you should not only get in line to get rerouted and inquire about vouchers for a hotel, but also immediately call your airline's 800 number, Klee says. Consider that the gate agents are handling requests for all other passengers on your flight. The agents on the phone, on the other hand, are in a less stressful environment and can handle requests promptly, he says. Before you leave home, make sure to jot down the contact details for your airline customer-service number, along with your frequent-flier number in the event of an emergency, Klee adds. "Exercise all your options," he says.

Keep kids entertained throughout the journey.

If you're traveling with children, avoid a mini-meltdown by staying prepared. Make sure to pack a preloaded iPad or computer with apps and games, along with other distractions, such as toys, puzzles and coloring books to keep toddlers busy. If you have hours to spare, escape to a quiet area to squeeze in a nap or venture to nearby playrooms. At San Francisco International Airport, for example, youngsters can explore an aviation museum or release pent up energy at interactive play spaces. At Denver International Airport, kids can explore art exhibitions. Ask your airport's information desk about art displays and areas catering to young fliers.

Research alternate airlines and airports.

Even if you only have a couple of airports nearby, it's a smart idea to do your homework and research on-time performance records for your selected airport, available on the Department of Transportation website, Klee says. Dodge airports that are notorious for experiencing inclement weather, he adds. "If you know you often get stuck in New York and you can circumvent a connection there, do that," he advises. Spagnola also suggests getting a refundable ticket to an alternate hub to dodge bad weather. For example, while Chicago O'Hare International Airport may be shut down due to a severe snowstorm, Chicago Midway International Airport might still have flights operating, he says.

Consider travel insurance.

Before you buy travel insurance, remember travel insurance policies are "designed to reimburse you for non-refundable expenses, but [they] will not cover you for everything," Klee says, emphasizing the importance of carefully assessing the terms and conditions and understanding exclusions. Usually, short delays and weather-related delays are not included in standard coverage, he adds, so make sure to review the policies with reputable providers such as Squaremouth and Travel Guard. Your affiliated loyalty credit card may also cover delays, Spagnola says. The Citi Prestige card, for example, allows cardholders to recoup up to $500 for a delay of three hours or longer.

Escape to the airport lounge, gym or yoga studio.

"Depending on the airport, you might be able to have a massage, get your nails done, take a nap or see a movie," Klee says. At San Francisco International Airport, for instance, you can retreat to a 150-square-foot yoga facility; at John F. Kennedy International, you can check out a tranquil post-security outdoor lounge. You can also scour AirportGyms.com to pinpoint your closest fitness center. With a day pass to your airline's lounge, you can also take advantage of free snacks and quiet surroundings for a $50 to $75 fee, Klee explains. If you're a frequent flier, see if your affiliated travel credit card grants free lounge access, Spagnola adds.

Resist the temptation to voice your gripes on social media.

While it can seem appealing to vent your frustration on social media platforms in a jam-packed terminal, fight this urge, Klee says. Though Twitter can be an effective tool, use it with caution, he says. "The days where a furious tweet gets immediate action are mostly over. A polite tweet to customer service asking for assistance will go further than a fury-fueled rant," he adds. Instead, consider submitting a formal complaint online with the DOT explaining your request for compensation due to missing an event or paying more money out of pocket due to the delay or cancellation.

Evaluate your options.

The airline is responsible for getting you from point A to B. "So, as long as the airline gets you there, they don't technically have to compensate you at all," Klee explains. However, if your flight is canceled, you can receive reimbursement, even for non-refundable tickets, he says. But if you call off your trip due to a delay and the flight ultimately takes off, "you will only be eligible for a credit toward a future flight, minus a penalty," Klee says. Many carriers impose a standard $200 penalty fee, plus there's no certainty that the new ticket will be priced the same way, so weigh your options carefully, he says.
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