How to: Survive Being Stranded at the Airport

by  Teresa Bitler | Updated on Aug 4, 2022
Woman in airport
Woman in airport / VladTeodor/iStock

How to Survive Being Stranded at the Airport

It doesn't matter whether you've been waylaid by a winter storm, volcanic ash, or some other major event -- being stranded at the airport is never fun. Make the best of a bad situation with these five tips. 

Here's how to survive being standard at the airport.

Prepare before you fly. 

Sometimes, flight cancellations can blindside you. But often, you get fair warning of impending doom: a storm has been forecast for days, or your final destination is making headlines. Don't get caught unprepared. Pack all your medications in your carry-on luggage (along with enough for a few extra days), and bring your wallet, cell phone, snacks, books, and devices to keep you entertained.

You may want to take it a step further, especially if you have reason to believe flights could be disrupted. Put your battery charger in your carry-on, as well as any other essentials you may need if the airport is shut down.

Bring cash. 

Even if you don't normally carry cash, you should definitely do so whenever you fly. It doesn't have to be a lot — just enough to tip the person who carries your luggage or to pay for a cab. At the very least, make sure you have a debit or credit card for booking a hotel room, purchasing a meal, or renting a car. The last thing you want is to spend days sleeping on an airport bench.

When you do make a purchase, save your receipts. If the airline is held responsible for the canceled flight, you may be able to claim a refund for your expenses. Travel insurance also reimburses expenses in some cases. Read your policy before you go so that you know what qualifies and under what conditions.

Act fast. 

Start shopping for a hotel the minute you suspect your flight will be canceled. Rooms sell out fast, especially during mass cancellations. Pro tip: When you book, ask if you can add extra nights if you need them, a move that could reserve your room through the crisis and lock in your rate.

Don't limit yourself; range out in your hotel search. Food and lodging are typically cheaper once you get away from the airport's immediate vicinity. Consider staying at a hotel within walking distance of public transportation that goes to and from the airport.

Be persistent. 

If you are trying to find an alternative flight, don't give up because the one you want is sold out. Keep checking. Often, when the weather gets bad, so many flights are delayed and canceled that people often miss their connections. That could free up the seat you want.

You may have to move quickly to grab one of those seats. Be prepared with a few helpful airport apps. GateGuru provides detailed terminal maps for hundreds of airports worldwide, while FlightBoard lists all arrivals and departures for more than 4,000 airports worldwide. You can also check out LoungeBuddy, which displays airport lounges in some of the world's busiest airports.

Chill out.

When there's nothing to do but wait, take advantage of the airport's amenities. Some have amazing features, including museums and art galleries. Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago O'Hare, and San Francisco even have yoga rooms. You'll also find impressive play areas for kids in Seattle, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Alternatively, find serenity by booking a massage at Xpress Spa, which offers various spa services at 21 major airports worldwide.

Want to take that trip for free — and score some valuable miles for your next excursion? Check out our top pick travel credit cards for the best welcome bonuses, perks, and plenty of cash back.

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