If you love to travel, eventually your luck will run out. Your flight will be delayed (or canceled), and you’ll find yourself staring down the barrel of a seemingly interminable airport wait. I’m not talking an hour or two either. This is my guide to surviving the double digit flight delays.
Before you leave
Get elite status
I realize not everyone flies as often as I do and that cost is a major factor in choosing a flight, but if you can, get yourself 25,000 miles with your favorite airline asap. Even the lowest elite status makes a difference when you’re one of 250 angry passengers vying for the attention of a harried gate agent.
Pack extra underwear
Take it from the girl who went to Denny’s in a cocktail dress commando: you do not get on a plane without extra undies. I do not care how short your flight is or if you’ll be landing at the Victoria’s Secret warehouse – things can always go wrong. Don’t forget to throw in your toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste, any essential medications and hopefully some deodorant as well.
At the airport
Ask for clarification
There are usually only two or three people left to deal with an entire planeload of unhappy customers when the shit hits the fan. This means that no matter how nice the airline employee, all he or she really wants is to get you out of the way. Do not take vague statements for an answer. Ask any questions you have – is this delay confirmed, or could it be pushed back further? what about my connecting flight? can I be rebooked on any other itinerary to get home sooner? – while you have the chance.
If you have lounge access, forget the line
In my experience, the lounge reception staff can usually do the same things gate agents can. So if you get beaten to the front of the line, skip it entirely. Just like elite status, the fact that you have lounge access makes airline employees more motivated to help you because you’re that bit more important to their bottom line.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Food voucher. Hotel. Lounge access. Wifi code to the lounge even if they won’t let you go inside. Extra toothbrush/toothpaste from the lounge if you were very bad and ignored my advice. You might not get everything – you should get food, but hotels are tough for weather-related flight delays, and they might really be out of toothbrushes – but it’s worth a try. Just keep it reasonable. You are not the only passenger, nor are you royalty, so don’t be a dick about it.
If you’re not satisfied, complain
At the airport, agents are doing something akin to battlefield triage. They just want to get you and your fellow passengers on the way as quickly as possible, preferably before you can all band together and start an uprising (yes, this happens). They are not usually able to give you any compensation.
Emails to customer service, however, often get you flight vouchers or a few thousand miles added to that account you started after reading my first tip. Again, use a little common sense and don’t complain when something was out of the airline’s control or was actually handled well (and I roll my eyes at people who think about complaining for a 3 hour delay), but don’t be afraid to ask customer service to do its job.
Appease the travel gods
I haven’t figured out how to do this yet, so if you have, please let me know. I’m writing this from the Avianca lounge at Bogota airport going on hour 7 of a 10 hour delay. I have clean clothes, my Silver status – gained through a status match, which is something you should look into once you get that first status taken care of – got me into the lounge, and I managed to switch to a direct flight home on Avianca rather than just pushing back my original BOG-PTY-SCL itinerary on Copa, but it’s still not my favorite way to spend a day.
Considering that only 3 months ago I was stuck in Buenos Aires for 15 hours – above you see how I feel about Aerolineas Argentinas – I have clearly done something wrong and am paying for it with these flight delays. Which may make you think you shouldn’t listen to my advice. But in fact, it just means I’m expertly qualified to help you make those really awful travel delays a little bit less painful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a shower and then start on the free vodka. Forget making lemons into lemonade, just cut off a twist and hand over the tonic.
Please share your tips in the comments!