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Stranded at the Airport? Here’s How to Get Home.

Few things are more stressful than getting stranded at the airport.

When I realized I would be flying during #Snowzilla2016, I didn’t freak out. I planned ahead and made some very smart decisions. However, I still made a few mistakes. Here’s what you can learn from my experience.

Here’s what I did right.

1. Plan for delays.

You can only plan so much, but here are four things that saved me:

  • If you’re traveling the day of or day after a major storm, change your reservation to depart the day before and avoid it totally. Most domestic airlines will waive all change fees.
  • Make sure you have the airlines reservation number programmed into your phone ready to go.
  • Set up your reservation to receive email or texts for important information like cancellations or delays. You can do this on the airlines website after putting in your reservation number.
  • Download Flightaware so you can track your flight as well as the inbound flight. This is essentially your flight that will be making its way to you.

2. Queue up as soon as your flight is cancelled.

This happened to me four times in 24 hours! If you’re already at the airport, get in line immediately AND call the reservation line (which you already have programmed into your phone). Double your chance of success. But here’s my secret trick. While in line….

3. Use Twitter!

Yes, you heard me. This actually worked for me and is a very good tactic when major storms like snowzilla wipe out 10,000 flights. EVERYONE is on the phone trying to rebook and there’s a 45-minute waiting time for a representative.

This is when I take the road less traveled. Follow the airline’s account and tweet them a message:

My flight is cancelled, please help!

Often, they will reply and ask you to direct message them with your confirmation number. With that info, they can rebook you sometimes faster than waiting in line or calling.

4. Negronis.

Never a bad idea.


Here’s what I did wrong.

Mistake #1: Traveling without power.

stranded at the airport

I should have packed a power strip with 6” chord. Your phone is your life line. With battery levels draining fast and all outlets being used in an airport, this is a way to plug in and share power. Brilliant!

Mistake #2: No real exit strategy. 

My flight home was late Sunday night, which I thought would not be affected since the storm ended Sunday morning. Snow crews were working the airports round the clock, right? Wrong. I was put on four flights, each one cancelled. I realized that I was most likely not getting home until Wednesday.

I was flying from Columbus to Newark. It was a small jet (not a priority) into Newark, which was experiencing delays in getting both runways cleared, while JFK and LGA were not. How did I know this? I follow the airports on Twitter, of course!

Was there an airport hub not affected by the storm? Hubs have more flights and fly to more airports. Chicago is a hub and ½ hour flight from Columbus. Once at Chicago ORD, I would have had the option of MANY flights departing to both JFK or LGA.

Mistake #3: Not looking at booking a flight on another carrier

Is there availability on another flight with a different carrier? Some airlines will rebook you on another airline if their flights are cancelled.

I found a Delta flight departing Columbus to LGA and with only one seat left I quickly booked it using miles (I’ve got a lot). However, had I known before I started panicking in line, the United agent would have booked me on that Delta flight as apart of their passenger contract. It basically says if they can’t get me home and someone else can, they will purchase that ticket.

Stranded at the AIrport
Boarding a flight never felt so good!

Here’s the silver lining:

Want to know the real reason why I totally dropped the ball on my return flight? I was having a very nice weekend in Columbus, shopping, seeing old friends and enjoying nice dinners out.

I made my very own snowday candle!

In the end, I got home only one day later and with no snow to shovel! Delays and cancelled flights (and on occasion, getting stranded at the airport) are a part of travel. Try to remind yourself it’s all part of the adventure. Try to have some fun in between figuring our your flights.

What are your tips for getting home when you’re stranded at the airport? Share in the comments!


This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Lots of great advice I am saving!

    Could have been worse. I was stranded in China (Hong Kong) for four days after 9/11. There was absolutely NO way to get home and no one knew what was going on or when we might be able to leave. A strange feeling.

  2. Along with checking the airlines, check hotels, unless you want to sleep at the airport. Hotels will fill up quickly when weather forces cancellations.

  3. Is your destination a manageable drive? I was stuck at O’hare 2 days before Christmas with a cancelled flight to Gran Rapids, spent the night there, airlines still couldn’t get a whole plane of us out the next day. A couple of us snagged the last rental car the rental agency had – got home on Christmas Eve and split the cosr 4 ways.

    Which leads me to another tip – make friends with fellow stranded passengers, you never know what connections or supplies they have. And you can share a few laughs along the way. Misery loves company!

  4. Maybe airlines will do these things for Samantha Brown but not for us commoners. I have tried the other airline route or even getting the airline to rebook me on a route that would avoid a weathered-in airport. Nope. No luck. I have many other examples of airlines not wanting to help.

    1. Allie, I totally agree! Unless things have changed in the last year that I don’t know about! When my flight from ORD to MSP with Delta was cancelled for mechanical problems, there were other flights going to MSP (and this was around 6 at night, plenty of flights available for the evening), but Delta didn’t do anything besides give us a hotel room and on the first flight the next morning (a Delta flight). I just wanted to get home!!

      1. Amanda, I have also found Delta is completely useless. Avoid them whenever possible. American Airlines also left us stranded at O’Hare after 10 pm on a Sunday evening since our connecting flight left without us (they had a day long computer system “glitch.”) They told us all local hotels were completely booked, offered us a cot in the terminal until Wednesday, which was the next available flight that was not full. The American reps were uninformed and inexperienced and useless. We then had to to find a one way car rental from O’Hare to Milwaukee airport. Hertz-National: no one way rentals allowed. Avis truly tried harder and helped dozens of thankful stranded passengers, with a smile and coffee/cookies. Avis was the hero of the day. We finally got home at 4 am Monday.

  5. I agree on it depending on who you are. If you don’t have a whole ton of followers on Twitter, I doubt tweeting would make any difference. I have done it and been ignored by Delta before, and then watched when someone with a ton of followers tweet about them and magically it is fixed. I also have seen airlines make things work for frequent fliers over other passengers waiting in line. It is good to have the hints and tricks though, because I guess you never know.

  6. You make it sound like Columbus is a bad place to be and you have to escape anyway you can.

    Planning a trip to Japan and made sure Twitter is on my phone. I will follow the airports and airlines. Also I will nave my cell phone in a Mophie case and will have two backup power sources. Thanks for all of your advice.

  7. Always double check why your flight was cancelled, even when the weather’s bad. I was recently flying when there was a storm. Three of my flights were cancelled due to weather, but one was cancelled due to mechanical issues. I got free food vouchers from the airline for that flight. It’s a small token when you spend 18 hours in the airport, but airport food is expensive so I’ll take what I can get!

  8. If there are multiple airports near where you’re headed, see if you can get a seat on a plane headed for one of those. I was stuck in ATL one time & was not getting a seat on a plane to Boston until the next day so I asked if there were any seats going to Manchester, NH (an hour away from Boston) & a few hours later I was on a half-empty plane headed there. My lovely husband came to pick me up but I could’ve just rented a car if I needed it! It’s a pain if you have checked luggage but my airline ended up treating mine as lost & delivered it to me the next day.

  9. I can’t believe what happened soon after I posted 2/6. Flying from London to Philly , 2 hrs after take off we turned around to Dublin to drop off a medical emergency. It was late in the evening and both NY and PhL airports immigration would be closed ,so we had to go back to London. To make matters worse, British Airlines computers were down and they could not re-book an entire MASSIVE plane full of people till the next morning. At the hotel they put us in, I quickly looked up flights on AA, spotted a 0820 am flight that morning,emailed my daughter with AA international 1-800 # with our BA record locator number. 20 minutes later,she emailed me to be at the airport at 0600..we were booked. No charge to us.The flight was almost empty… they could of accommodated sooo many travelers. BA had a 1pm flight with some openings, but many of these passengers waited really late to get home.

  10. Intl Doc has learned that if something happens to the first leg of the journey, one had best get on the phone to repair the second leg too. I was in the aircraft, on the tarmac, waiting to be pushed back from the gate when I called reservations to change my flight from DFW to LAX (part 2 of JFK to DFW, delayed by weather). The change was made instantly, without fee.

  11. If you know of an alternate, or think you do, offer that to your airline. Was going from US to Phuket and my first leg was delayed 12 hours. I asked to have my connecting flight changed to one more direct and they were glad to do it. Another satisfied customer. Some airlines still do believe in customer service.

  12. I have lived on the road for over 25 years, traveling as a seminar speaker to 5 continents. Fortunately I do not have as many horror stories as some, but I do think there is at least a bit of explanation as to why, and how I cope with them.

    My first rule, which I never bend under any circumstances: I never complain about travel, never! The first rule is that your attitude does more to prevent bad events and to cope with them, than any thing else you can do. If the flight is cancelled, well it’s cancelled, complaining and negativity don’t un-cancel it, and it doesn’t get you better help from the airlines, it only makes it a worse experience for you. I can tell plenty of “bad travel” stories to support this.

    Samantha, these are great tips. Thanks, because if you travel your plans will be disrupted, that is part of the adventure. Yet some of the best stories I have are from people I have met, things I have seen, when a flight was delayed 5 hours, or the weather forced me to stay in a tiny fishing village in middle of Alaska with only old paperback books to read, no internet etc, it was great. People long for time to just do nothing, so accept it as a blessing, and make the best of it.

    Safe travels,

  13. As a travel professional another tip especially during crappy weather is to always have downloaded the airline’s website on your phone or tablet, during these times they open up all flights so regardless of what fare you have purchased if there is an available seat you can easily change because the waivers are already attached to the website, no waiting in line, no hanging on the phone.

  14. Travel insurance for trip interruption, lost baggage, etc is a good investment for trips that you consider a big investment. With Covid making international travel a nightmare, it is a must for me now.

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Stranded at the AIrport - Samantha Brown
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