Lessons I Learned When My Flight Plans Went Awry

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I love to travel, which is probably why I became a travel writer and travel agent, but even the best laid plans can go off the rails when weather, strikes or mechanical problems occur. On a recent trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest we encountered a trifecta of bad weather, mechanical failure, and already fully booked flights that aligned to derail our plans to get home to our kids who, along with my father-in-law, were eagerly awaiting our return.

In an effort to "look on the bright side" I used this unpleasant opportunity to put together some advice for other travelers who might find themselves in a similar situation.

1. Be Kind

I think this is a rule you should always follow, but especially when traveling and when plans go amiss. In most cases, the individuals that you are dealing with (flight attendants, baggage handlers, airline employees) are probably doing their best to help you and the other passengers having trouble. They are much more likely to go the extra mile for you if you approach them with kindness and cooperation rather than yelling and aggravation.

2. Always Have (Some) Cash When You Travel

Sure, ATMs are everywhere, but when the power goes out (as it did during a bad storm) the ATM and credit card readers might not work, so you'll be happy that you have cash if you want to buy a snack or need to buy water (or something stronger) to quench your thirst.

3. Keep Your Phone Charged

This is definitely a challenge for me - my husband is always asking me how much battery power I have left and reminding me to plug in my phone at every opportunity. We also travel with a battery pack that can be used to boost up any devices we have on hand, including phones, iPads and even laptops. You'll be happy to have your phone charged if you need to make phone calls to friends and family to let them know that your plans have changed, to call the airlines to see if they can re-ticket you and, if you have a smartphone, to monitor the weather, book a hotel for the night and, if you're just waiting, keep yourself entertained.

Many airports now have charging stations set up and plenty of outlets, including some with USB ports, but you might find you'll get a faster charge if you use your own charger in an outlet.

4. BYO Water Bottle When You Travel

Sure, you have to dump it out as you clear security (unless you guzzle it down before, which is a good way to ensure you're drinking plenty of water), but it's easy (& free) to refill at a water fountain. (I absolutely love that there are more and more places with special water fountains designed for refilling water bottles!) It's kinder to the environment than buying bottled water and it's super important to stay hydrated whenever you fly.

When flights get messed up, you might find yourself running from gate to gate, stuck waiting in line to talk to an agent, or even sitting on a plane on the runway and you'll be grateful that you have something to drink.

5. Consider As Many Scenarios As Possible

This can mean flying into/out of a less convenient airport or maybe even driving to another airport to ease re-routing. In our case, we drove five hours to another major airport in order to get on a direct flight home. This meant that my father-in-law was able to take his previously scheduled flight home knowing we were home safe and sound. We also considered flying into other airports outside of New York (Philadelphia and Washington, DC) in addition to all three of New York city's major airports (LGA, EWR, & JFK).

You'll be happy you kept your smart phone fully charged, so you can see how long it would take you to drive to different airports and look at maps if you're not a geography-wiz.

6. Be Fast

Don't forget about Lesson 1, but when we were waiting in line to rebook our flights the people ahead of us in line were able to get on earlier flights home than we were, merely because they were helped first. If you're traveling with someone else, you can use this to your advantage and have one person go to the ticketing counter (outside of security) while one of you waits at the gate for announcements and updates.

7. Be Prepared

Do your best to be prepared for the unexpected -- this means when packing for your trip, bring enough medication, contact lenses and even underwear to last you a couple of extra days.

Always travel with some non-perishable snacks. (I personally love to have dried fruit, Kind bars and nuts in my carry-on, but bring what you like best.)

If you've got travel insurance (either a policy you bought for the trip, an annual policy or coverage through your credit card) review it in to understand your policy.

You don't want to be looking for your policy to see when your trip delay/trip interruption/missed connection coverage kicks in, what the daily allowance is for each and how much total coverage you have.

8 Call the Airline While You Wait On Line

There are way more people working in the airline call center who can help you rebook your flight than there are locally at the airport, so you might find that calling the airline directly is the easiest/fastest way to get a flight home. However, if you want hotel/transportation vouchers you'll have to talk to the airline employees at the ticketing counter. We also discovered that the agents at the ticketing counter had inventory that wasn't available through the call center (the airline had ordered some larger aircraft for the next day to help accommodate the passengers from the cancelled flights.)

Heather Cross