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How to Survive a Major Airport Delay

When your flight is canceled or an airport closes due to a widespread storm, knowing what to do to salvage your trip is essential. As a result of a major blizzard along most of the East Coast one winter, we found ourselves at a Florida airport on a Sunday morning, amid the crowds and confusion, with a ticket and no flight home. We learned the following tips the hard way—by being stranded ourselves.

If you haven’t already checked your luggage, repack. Put everything–clothes, medicine, work-- needed for the next few days in your carry-on, then kiss your luggage good-by. It will, hopefully, end up in your home town, but it may take several days to arrive. Our luggage arrived four days after we did.

If you are at the gate area, stay there. Do not go back to the check-in counter unless you want to languish in hours-long lines. Instead, line-up at any active counter. During a major shut-down, any agent can rebook you even if that counter’s board reads “Los Angeles” and you’re headed to Newark.

What to do while standing in line? Be pro-active: use your Smartphone, iPad, or computer to book a room at a local hotel just in case. Since the weather outside is frightful, pick a property within walking distance of the airport as shuttle buses may not be operating. Unless you like trekking through snow or heavy rain in search of food, select a lodging with an on-site or adjacent restaurant.

When you finally reach the agent, take any plane that gets you closer to your final destination. Headed to Washington, D.C., we accepted a ticket for a flight from sunny Florida to Raleigh-Durham. Since we anticipated bad weather in North Carolina, we had already booked a hotel room in Raleigh-Durham.

However, we didn’t leave the Raleigh-Durham airport without being confirmed on a flight to our final destination. Without a confirmed seat, you fall to the bottom of the endless stand-by list. We also asked to be wait-listed on several flights for the next day and the day after.

Even though our confirmed flight didn’t take off for two days, we went back to the Raleigh-Durham airport the next morning, Monday, with our luggage, but we still reserved the same hotel room for another night. After all, we didn’t know if we could get out. Eventually, the airline ticketed us for a flight to D.C. for that night. We canceled our hotel room, breathed a sigh of relief and eventually boarded the plane.

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