Travel Delays: What To Do When You Get Stuck

This tip is born of experience. Last year, a few days after Christmas, I was one of the unlucky many who got stuck at Chicago O’Hare when freezing rain hit. What should have been a 6-hour trip (with connection) turned into a 21-hour ordeal. That’s right… 21 hours door to door to get from Chicago to the west coast. And if I hadn’t taken some proactive measures, I could have been stuck for days. So here are some tips on what to do when you get stuck due to travel delays.

Know the Alternatives

When the delays started getting longer and longer, I started calculating. Calculating the exact time that we would have to leave by in order for me to make my connecting flight. Then, I went to work. I looked up later connections. Alternative routings. I even looked up other airlines just in case. I wanted to know all of my options before I spoke with someone in order to speed up the process. Because in a situation like this where over half of the flights were cancelled throughout the course of the day, the precious moments it would take an agent to search are the same moments in which the seats can disappear. Time is of the essence.


Call, Don’t Just Stand

Have you seen those lines in the airport for rebooking??? In the words of the illustrious Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

You have a phone in your hand…Use it. I actually called the airline phone number before I even got off the plane. Even with hold times approaching an hour (many have a callback feature), I was still able to reach someone by phone before I was able to speak with someone to rebook, and I wasn’t even in the look rebooking line. By calling I was able to secure an alternate flight well before the other people on my flight even made it to the window. This proved to be clutch when I got to my connection and there was a standby list of 20 people. I was able to get out that night rather than being stuck on a connection with no options.


Download the Airline App

Most of the major airlines have cell phone apps that you can download. And they make all of the difference in the world. When I missed my first (of three) scheduled connections, American Airlines actually sent me a notification through my app letting me know that they had rebooked me automatically on the next flight out. This was a huge surprise, because I hadn’t even reached a person yet! On a trip where there were a lot of things lacking, American scored on that one. So make sure you have your airline’s app before flying because I can’t imagine that American is the only airline that can notify you of changes via the app. It definitely saved me some stress.


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I am a lawyer. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I am a photographer. And I love to travel.

15 comments on “Travel Delays: What To Do When You Get Stuck”

  1. All great points. I saw the third one in action when we were traveling from Houston to Los Angeles. The 3 hour flight turned into 11 and when they finally canceled the flight, the re-booking line was insane. Had it not been for the fact that we left our email number with the airline and who then booked us on another flight, we would have been part of the unlucky group who missed the new flight.

  2. These are great tips! Delays and cancellations can be frustrating but by using your tips that anxiety can be lessened. As you outlined, it is essential to be proactive.

    Happy Travels into the new year.

  3. I’ll have to remember these tips. The last time I flew, I couldn’t get a flight out of Chicago until close to midnight. I got my popcorn though so I was okay. 😉

  4. I have been in this situation before and truly taking advantage of the customer service via phone can nip this issue in the bud much more quickly!

  5. Wow 21 hours…that sucks! I love all of these proactive tips and I am definitely gonna utilize God forbid I get stuck ::knock on wood that I dont this year::

  6. OMG this is probably the thing I fear most about flying. I do have the airline apps on my phone though and I really like that they are so easy to use.

  7. Great advice Tyra! I hadn’t even thought about calling. Duh! It’s like when you are in the airport you just automatically assume the people there have the most up to date info even though I know they are looking at the same system as the people on the phone. I will definitely keep this in mind. I hope I don’t have to use this info anytime soon though!

    1. Lauren, I hope you don’t have to use it either. But yeah, sometimes the people in the airport are so stressed by the long line and the upset people in person that it may be better to call the over the phone folks who are a bit separated from the situation.

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