What better time to remind you of the possibility of being stranded at the airport, than in the aftermath of the Eyjafjallajoekull ash cloud disruption?
During that dark period of air travel, 7 million people were stranded at airports all around the world. Flights were canceled as far away as New Zealand, and even passengers just two hour flights away from home found themselves taking $5,000 cab rides just to get home.
So – what are the best ways to deal with a situation like this? What can you do to get yourself on the first available flight, and how can you compete with 7 million others, who all want the same thing? We’ve collected the best tips – but remember the most important one: stay calm, take a deep breath and make the best of a bad situation. Getting mad won’t get you home any sooner.Money – make sure you have some
This is a tough one – without money, being stranded can turn from an inconvenience into a nightmare. During the Icelandic volcanic ash disruption, there were countless stories of people that were stuck at the airport without a penny left. In those cases, tourists suddenly found themselves begging for food at the airport and sleeping on a cot for a week. Always make sure you have access to some backup funds in cash or on a credit card.
Another important tip is to save all your receipts – if the airlines are held responsible for the delays, you may be able to claim refunds. Before you go spending money, ask whether your airline is issuing hotel and food vouchers. If delays are no more than a day, many airlines will help their passengers, but don’t expect anything past that 24 hour period.
Always pack to be prepared
This rule applies to any trip – stranded or not. Any time you hand over your bags to the airline, make 100% sure there is nothing in it that you may end up needing.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people still pack wallets, laptops, phones or medication in their checked luggage. If the airline goes on strike, or cancels flights, your bags may be stuck in the luggage basement for days with no way for you to retrieve them.
Mobile technology is your best friend
Put your technology to good use – if you have a smartphone, make sure you install all the apps that can help you out. Check out our iPhone airport survival guide for some tips. Similar applications are also available for most other platforms. Your most important resources will be access to online search and the mobile site of your airline.
Once you are at ease with the idea that you are going to be stranded for the time being, use your phone to keep yourself entertained. Just remember that your battery won’t last all day, so keep an eye open for outlets, and read our airport power guide for tips on keeping your gadgets going.
Know your way around
When disaster strikes, spend 10 minutes to find your way around the airport. Some situations may require you to make a mad dash from gate to gate, and only those people that know their way around will be on time. Use smartphone tools like Gate Guru to find airport amenities, and on your way around, be sure to make a mental note of the quietest airport security checkpoints or other time saving tricks.
Find the most effective way to rebook yourself
During massive air delays, social media sites like Twitter are full of people complaining that they had to spend an hour or more on hold with the airline. Sadly, this is par for the course when thousands of people are stuck – you’ll be competing with every other stranded passenger on your airline.
Airlines will be dealing with thousands of passengers on hold – so don’t expect things to magically happen on their own. In the aftermath of the volcano, it took some airlines two weeks to clear their backlog of stranded passengers.
So – you’ll need to be smart and find the best way to get in touch with the airline. If you are abroad, make sure you find local access numbers. If the airline has a toll free number, use it. If your only option is to call the United States on a pricey international call, find WiFi and use Skype.
Some airlines have electronic rebooking options available on their kiosks. Other quick ways to find an employee not being harassed by 100’s of passengers is to check the airline lounge or even ask whether employees at the baggage desk have access to reservations systems. Remember – a smile goes a long way. Don’t whine, rant, grunt or complain. Just ask whether the employee would be willing to help and compliment them on their fantastic hair.
Need a hotel? Be quick and book ahead
As soon as you realize something is going wrong, find a hotel. Seriously – don’t worry (too much) about cost or whether the hotel has a room available with a jacuzzi tub.
When you call the hotel, book a night, and ask whether you can add extra nights without any cancellation penalties – then book these extra nights right away. This way, you can prevent spending one night at the hotel for $100, and having to pay $400 a night when the hotel realizes they can start gouging stranded passengers.
Got friends in high places? Use them!
Do you know someone who is an elite member of the airline? Now may be the time to ask them for that one big favor they owe you. They may not be able to magically call for a new plane, but they may be able to call their own elite desk and beg for a little help. Use the power of the Internet to find the elite passenger helpdesk numbers – yes, elite passengers will yell at me for this tip, but when you are in trouble, you do everything you can to fix things.
Get away from the airport for a bit
Do you already know that your next chance to get back home won’t be for another couple of days? Get away from the airport! Pick a hotel away from the airport area, but close to a rapid public transport system. This will get you a cheaper room, cheaper food and less stress from all the other stranded passengers.
Make the best of a bad situation
Look, everyone knows that being stranded is a waste of time – but getting upset about it isn’t going to help anyone. Make the best of a bad situation and have some fun. Make new friends at the airport and try to cheer others up. If you can help someone else – do it. I’ve been stuck at the airport several times, and despite the major inconvenience and cost, I ended up flying back home with new memories and new friends.