Cancelled Flights and Forced Overnights: How Not to Get Stranded at the Airport
10 smart travel tips for getting to your destination on time
During peak travel times, such as the holidays, your risk of being stranded overnight at an airport may take off, thanks to spikes in the number of people traveling, overbooked flights and cancellations due to bad weather.
These tips from Christine Sarkis, a senior editor at Smarter Travel Media, and the American Automobile Association (AAA) will help lower the chances you’ll have to spend a night with your suitcase as a pillow or cough up good money for an airport hotel and arrive at your destination stressed and exhausted.
Related: 5 Ways to Safeguard Your Luggage
Choose your travel days wisely. Try not to fly on days the airport is likely to be packed and flights overbooked. Sarkis says December 23rd tends to be the busiest travel day of the year. After Christmas, the 27th is usually the least busy time during the holidays to fly. The days right after New Year’s are crowded as well.
Fly early in the day. In general, the earlier you fly, the better. An earlier flight is less likely to get delayed, according to the Department of Transportation.
Reserve a parking space. Because parking lots can fill up quickly when lots of people are traveling, you’ll want to make sure you don’t wind up circling in search of a spot when you should be boarding your flight. Book your space well in advance and allow plenty of extra time to get to the lot and to the airport.
Check in online, and get to the gate early. “Ticket agents bump latecomers first,” Sirkas notes. Call the airline the night before your flight and ask if it’s overbooked. If it is, get to the gate a half hour earlier than you would have. (Some airlines bump based on who paid the least for their ticket, so this won't always work. Find out your airline's bumping policy.)
Fly direct. Sometimes connecting can save you money. But you may find yourself racing through an enormous airport trying to make a connecting flight after your first flight was delayed, only to miss it and find all the other flights out of the airport are booked.
Steer clear of high-traffic and bad-weather hubs if possible. If you must book connecting flights, try to avoid major hubs. Late arrivals are often a problem at major airports (such as the Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Los Angeles International Airport and New York’s LaGuardia Airport, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics). If it’s the holiday season, try not to book a connecting flight in bad-weather cities such as Chicago or Denver, advises Sarkia. Try for Phoenix or Las Vegas instead, and make sure you book connecting flights with plenty of time between them.
Be the first to know if your flight has been cancelled. Download the app for the airline you’ll be taking and set it up to alert you to delays. You may find out about delays or cancellations before they’re announced at the gate. That way you’ll have a better chance of booking another flight before your fellow travelers start crowding the reservation desk. Another helpful app is TripIt Pro. With it you’ll have access to Seatbuddy, which gives you information on available seats and their location.
If your flight is canceled, use an airline app to locate and reserve the next flight out. Or, advises Sarkis, jump in line to talk to a representative. If the line is long, call the airline directly — use the overseas number if the wait to speak to a representative with the domestic number is long, Sarkis says. She also recommends asking to speak to someone in Spanish, even if you're English-speaking. “There’s a shorter wait, and those agents speak English as well.” Program the airline’s domestic and international numbers on your phone in advance. You can also use the seat opening alert available from ExpertFlyer.com.
Protect your luggage (and yourself). It's easy to get distracted when you're frantically trying to rebook a flight — something that might give a thief the opportunity to make off with your purse or computer, even your luggage. Keep your possessions in sight at all times. If you're waiting for another flight and you feel like you're going to fall asleep, ask to park your luggage in the "left luggage" department. Stretch out under an airport security camera, or buy a pass to an airline lounge (see below).
Get a one-day pass to an airline lounge. It should cost between 25 and 50 dollars. Besides having comfortable seating, food and beverages, these lounges often have a concierge service that can help you rebook a flight quickly, says Sarkis.