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Flight Canceled Because of the Snowstorm? How To Survive Multiple-Day Airport Delays

March 4, 2014
Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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Trips, no matter how well organized, will go awry. Winter, for those of us fortunate enough to experience it, can leave you stranded in an airport for days. So can hurricanes. So can poor planning on behalf of the airlines. The lucky will be delayed for only a few hours; the less fortunate, days. 

If you find yourself in the latter group, waiting for days to leave an unfamiliar city, there is some hope. Here are a few ways to make a multi-day delay a little less unpleasant: 

Get a hold of customer service

An obvious step, but an important one. Here’s why: Airlines typically offer meal, hotel and flight vouchers as compensation for delayed flights. Some airlines only offer vouchers for delays within their control (mechanical repairs, rescheduling, etc.), but it’s worth a shot — though there’s no guarantee — for weather delays as well. It’s important to get a hold of these so you’re not paying out of your own pocket. You need to get these vouchers as soon as possible.  

So if you’re certain your flight’s getting delayed, get in line to speak with a representative. If there’s a long line, call the airline’s phone support — they can help you, too. If all else fails, try to contact the airline on a social media channel.

Be aware: If your luggage is separated from you, some airlines will provide a complimentary overnight kit. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Pro tip: If you speak another language, call that airline’s international phone number. The wait times will probably be much shorter, especially if everyone in the airport is trying to get in touch.

» MORE: How to find the best travel insurance

Get a pass to the lounge

There are a few reasons why you’ll want a lounge ticket: It’s comfortable, some have free food and drinks, and the airline representatives who work in lounges can do everything the ones outside can do, but you won’t have to wait as long to speak with them. Usually they’re friendlier, too. Finally, using an exclusive lounge allows you a moment to decompress and call the people who need to know your flight’s delayed and that you’re OK.

Pack smart

If you’re flying in the winter, think ahead. Everyone knows that airports all over the country will be frozen in early January and other winter months. Sometimes it comes in a big freeze, like it did in early 2014, sometimes it comes on an airport-by-airport basis. If you have to travel during a weather even, like a winter storm, hurricane or deep freeze, pack light enough to keep your luggage with you so you can stay warm and have access to your necessary medicines and toiletries. If you can’t keep all of your baggage with you, then be sure to pack an emergency kit in your carry-on bag, including said toiletries and, maybe, spare sets of undergarments (trust us on this).

Find hotels

Delayed flights means there’s going to be a mad dash for hotel rooms — especially for big weather events. Sometimes airlines will be able to provide you with vouchers (like we previously mentioned) or recommend nearby hotels that offer discounted rates. But this is not all of the time, and, in some cases you’ll have to rely on your own resources. Be prepared.

There are a few apps designed to find discounts for last-minute hotel bookings. Get them. Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, Hotel Tonight and Travelocity all offer discounts on rooms “for tonight,” though many last-minute rooms are non-refundable. If there’s one app that stands above the rest here, it’s Hotel Tonight, which posts discounted bookings at 9 a.m. while others post rooms around 3 p.m. If you’re feeling particularly alternative, you can always check Airbnb, which has affordable and immediate options in many cities.

» MORE: 7 Ways your credit card could save you money on holiday travel

Get transportation

Finally, have a path out of the airport. Hotels, if you’re lucky enough to land one, often provide complementary shuttles from the airport. If you manage to book a room, call to ask about shuttle services. If you took the Airbnb route, you may have to rely on taxis — which means you’ll need to take a run to an ATM or rethink about where you’re going to sleep.

Also, check if the city you’re stuck in has services like Lyft, Uber, RelayRides or Sidecar. These options are less well-known, so you have a better chance of snagging a ride.

Delays will always be unpleasant, but there are ways to make them at least more comfortable.  Stay on top of the weather, have a plan and be aware of what you can do to get  back on track as soon as possible. And most of all: Have a good flight.

Airport image via Shutterstock