Full disclosure – I have been touting the benefits of working with travel advisors for the past 20 years – their advice, hands-on support, expertise and travel perks. You might think I’m a bit jaded, but my recent travel experience only solidifies the point.
On my return from a cruise conference in Fort Lauderdale I awoke Saturday morning to find Delta had cancelled my return flight to NY and rebooked me Sunday morning. No way was I staying an extra day, so I ran to the airport to try to get on earlier flight. Little did I know major storms were brewing in the southeast US which wreaked havoc on flights. In addition, Royal Caribbean had just disembarked thousands of passengers who were flying home.
At a packed airport, it was senseless to cue up to rebook, so I called my travel helpline (which provides after hours support for my company). They booked me a JetBlue flight Saturday evening, so I checked in and waited out the day. Several flights were delayed or cancelled due to weather, lack of flight crew, and equipment issues. My 5:20pm departure was ultimately cancelled at 1:30am. We were instructed to go to the Jetblue counter to be rebooked. While waiting in line for 2 hours, I again called my helpline and before I reached the front of the line, I was rebooked on a flight later Sunday.
Another cancelled flight and I was put on standby (Jetblue said I was #1 on the list!) but when I checked in, they said the flight crew had taken the seats. In addition, they were offering clients $2K in vouchers to give up their seats. My luggage made it to LaGuardia, but I did not.
Bleary eyed with fatigue, I called the travel helpline Sunday evening (they know me by first name now!) who booked me a reasonably priced hotel close to the airport. I had heard that rooms were scarce and very high priced due to the situation, so I was relieved to get something so quickly.
After a shower and a good night sleep, I returned to the airport to get a morning flight. You guessed it - again cancelled, so my corporate travel agent rebooked me for that evening (thank goodness for Netflix to pass the time). I was still anxious seeing more delays, so I called my corporate travel agent again, who was searching for any seat to any NY airport and once again saved the day by getting me one departing within the hour. I did make it to JFK that evening.
Lessons learned: without the help of a travel counselor, you are on your own. They have access to the GDS – Global Distribution System airline reservations system and can pull up all the airlines’ seat availability and pricing. An app can’t do that for you. Try calling an OTA in the middle of the night!
And remember the airline staff is trying their hardest as this situation is out of their control as well. Unruly passengers are not tolerated and will be removed from the flight, so don’t be the one who ruins it for the rest of us. While the weather is out of our control, we can still control how we react.
I was grateful for many things during that weekend – that I wasn’t traveling with elderly family members, babies or toddlers. I met some nice people along the way. I had a credit card/cash to handle the extra costs (many vacationers would find this a financial burden). Most importantly, I had the support of a travel professional who helped with air and lodging - someone who was by my side during this ordeal who ultimately got me home.
Tips to survive airport delays:
- Check out the weather around the area you are traveling and to/from your destination.
- Carry medicine, toothbrush, toothpaste, make-up, moisturizer in your carry-on bag.
- Download all the apps that you need along with passwords, logins. Have all your important phone numbers loaded in your contacts.
- Explore the airport, walk around and find a quiet place to sit away from the crowds, if possible – restaurants, bars or any place that has outlets to charge your phone (or better yet bring a pre-charged battery pack).
- Be flexible – I had 3-4 different airports to select to get out of town. While a slight inconvenience, at least I got to NY.
- Layer your clothes – I’m always cold on planes but you are also colder when you are tired or are trying to nap.
- Keep all your vitals in one place, e.g., wallet, phone, documents, glasses. When you are tired you tend to get flustered.
- With a long wait, don’t watch the clock. Pace yourself with activities: take a walk, eat a meal, browse magazines in the gift shop, get a coffee, watch a video, play a game or call a loved one.
- Pack patience, empathy, self-control and kindness.
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