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 no fun. Make the best of a bad situation with these five tips.
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 of 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 and essentials that the airport might not have or might be in short supply of if the airport is shut down.
Bring cash: Even if you don’t normally carry cash, do so when 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 cancelled 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 now: The minute you suspect your flight will be cancelled, start shopping for a hotel. Rooms sell out fast, especially during mass cancellations. 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 is typically cheaper once you get away from the immediate vicinity of the airport and usually more plentiful when a lot of passengers are stranded. 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 cancelled 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 and updates the data every five minutes. While you’re downloading, you may want to check out LoungeBuddy which displays airport lounges in more than 500 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, and other major airports even have yoga rooms. You’ll find impressive play areas for kids in Seattle, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles (plus Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago O’Hare, and San Francisco).
In Atlanta and Philadelphia, try to snag the rooms available for rent by the hour where you can nap or work in peace. Or find serenity by booking a massage. Xpress Spa offers a variety of spa services at 22 major airports in the United States and Europe.