Introduction: How to Survive Being Stranded

Each year, hundreds of people are stranded at the airport--either you've missed a flight, or some act of nature has prevented you from catching the plane. Since I was born, I've been flying standby on a variety of major airlines. My dad works for a major company, and there are ways to make your experience more comfortable while saving some money...Also, some of the tips are good for regular travel, or last-minute travel, as well.

Here's a few tips to cope.

Step 1: Relax

If plans have unexpectedly changed, you might be a little (or a lot) stressed out. Totally acceptable. However, in order to deal with other people and make good choices, being calm and assertive (and nice!) really helps. If this means getting a beer or ice cream or taking a little nap, go ahead. In most cases, you have time. If not, go straight to step #2...

Step 2: Take Inventory

If you have sufficiently calmed down, or haven't the time to do so, figure out how much and what you have on-hand at the moment. This comes into play for all the actions you take from here on out...

First, do an assessment of what you have with you (in order of importance--what you need right now and so forth) It might be something like:

1. Money/Credit Cards
2. Medication
3. Tickets *or passes
4. Passport
5. Contact Lenses *(wearing)
6. Carry-On Bag (Laptop)
7. Purse--comb, lipstick, kleenex, etc.
8. Books

In this example, it becomes clear that the traveler can only really be comfortable for a short while without making other arrangements. She has no change of clothing with her (let's say they're at her destination, or lost) and has to figure out step #2...

5-10 mins.

Step 3: Make a Friend in the Biz

Airline employees and Airport staff are your friends--or at least, you should treat them as such. Your attitude towards the ticket agent or customer service agent could make all the difference and sometimes, when there's one seat left open, the nice friendly person is accommodated first. This is also why being calm and friendly going into the situation can be huge (*and why relaxing is step #1).

So step #3--make "friends" with an agent. You can find them behind customer service counters, or flight gate counters. Any of them can help you, but try to select someone who is:

• Not Busy: they should have some time to devote to helping you
• Friendly: some people have a friendly demeanor, some are having an off day. Try to get someone who has a good attitude and is willing to help.
• Knowledgeable: a trainee might help, but a seasoned vet is better equipped to help you
• Going to be around for a little while: if this person leaves, you're going to start over with each person you talk to (although this isn't a huge deal)

10-30 minutes.

Once you've located someone helpful, you need to determine how long you're going to b stranded--or at least get an idea. If there are major weather issues, cancelations, or other big events where LOTS of people are stranded, it could be a while. A tip in that situation is to find someone who works for an affiliate of your airline that you're traveling on. For example, Alaska and Horizon are partner airlines. They often work with other airlines as well, and can access that information. You'll typically find sister airlines *(or affiliate airlines) locate their gates adjacent to each other. Also, you can ask or look at any of their in-flight material (magazines) to find out which ones are linked. The smaller of those companies can be a big help because NOT EVERYONE KNOWS they can be of assistance!

After finding a general time frame for your "stranded" situation, move onto making arrangements.... step #4

Step 4: Have a New Plan: Food, Clothing, Shelter and More

Once you've determined how long you're going to be stranded over, arrangements need to be made: the most pressing *(in my experience) are usually clothing and a place to stay.

Accomodations: For short stay, I would recommend finding a quiet place in the airport and taking a nap. Meditation areas are great for this, but you might want to just find a couch-like place to lay down. Depending on the airport, travelers can often stay in the airport overnight. This does include the chance that you will be sleeping ON your bags, uncomfortable, and not-so-fresh. However, i've done it 5 or 6 times, sometimes more than one day in a row, and there are toiletries for sale in the airport, should you not have them with you. Check your inventory and see if staying in-airport is even possible or a consideration.

For longer stays or in situations that require a bath/shower and more comfort (traveling with children, for example), ask for the stranded traveler's coupon. You can find them at the desk near the taxis that advertise nearby hotels (by the shuttles) or at times from airline ticket agents.

Bonuses to look for: cost (cheap is good), proximity (you might have to be back at the airport early), shuttle availability (how often do they run? what are the hours?), guest services (cable, a gym, and jacuzzi in room will help you relax). Word to the wise: call before you book. Act like you're a full paying customer and ask questions. Then call back and redeem your coupon when you're ready. I've found you get better rooms this way and it gives you time to compare.

Avoid: way too close to airport, too pricey (unless it's peak season or lots of stranded), or somewhere with minimal amenities. You will really appreciate a cheap bottle of shampoo when you're in need or a free toothbrush. It will save time and money if you have a restaurant in-house or close by. Denny's and other chains are usually a stone's throw away from airport hotels.

Clothes: it's tough, but once you're at the hotel, you could ask for laundry service for what you're wearing (it's awkward! you're nekkid!) or do laundry in the bath tub. BUT, if you only have a little bit of time (overnight) things will not be dry enough to wear. Using a hair dryer or iron can speed the drying process on underwear or cotton clothing, but don't expect your thicker clothes (jeans, etc.) to be dry by the time you've got to be out the door...

If you can't wash the clothing, I'd ask the hotel shuttle to drop you off at a mall or shopping, or ask their concierge to get something for you (or arrange a taxi). This only really is an option if you have bucks, and if you are staying somewhere fancy. These days, it seems there's a mall or shopping almost anywhere, but if it's late, you're limited. Airports, though, HAVE CLOTHING STORES. They're overprices, but get what is hard to dry--pants/shirt or dress. EX-OFFICIO ( or outdoorsy-type stores usually have great travel clothing that is easy to travel with and is designed to be washed and dried quickly--so your hotel bathroom can be your laundry room if you have to stick around more than overnight.

Plan to spend money on the clothing, though. Unless you want touristy t-shirts (still expensive). Also, take into consideration whether or not you would wear the clothes again, and if you would be comfortable continuing to travel in them.

Food: there's tons of it in the airport, but if you have a special diet, go for ethnic food near the airport. Many Japanese, Thai and other restaurants have vegetarian options. Most hotels have breakfast (bonus) and you can also get stuff out of vending machines.

Toiletries: Since the TSA has banned liquids and gels over a certain amount, you probably don't pack them in your carry-ons anymore, right? in an ideal world, you'd have tiny packages with you--a mini-travel set. But your hotel should have shampoo, soap, conditioner, etc. Most hotels have complimentary stuff (razors, toothbrush) or offer them at low cost. Also, asking the ticket agent or your airline friend for resources really helps. Sometimes these items are available at the airport, too. Get the smaller size, even if you do end up at a nearby walgreens (there was once one in walking distance from a hotel I stayed in). You don't want to pack them back the next morning.

Emergency items: You might need medication or other emergency supplies (first aid, etc). Always go to an employee and ask for help--especially if it is an emergency. Insullin, medications, and resources are available.

Step 5: Other Tips

Other things I've found helpful (please add to if you have tips, too):

• Before a trip, it's good to have a backup plan, even if you don't need to use it.
• As recommended, bring all medications and essential items with you on your carry on. Pack that bag as if it was intended to get you through one day and one extra night. If you can't plan for that, wear clothes that dry fast and can be washed easily. :)
• Keep a list of need-to-know numbers in your wallet.
• Don't be afraid to ask. I see a lot of people go through misery because they won't ASK for help.
• Keep a positive attitude. There's only so much you can control with travel. Try to make an adventure out of it, and let yourself have a few luxuries (like a pay-per-view movie or a few microbeers in the restaurant). This also impacts how other people view you, and their willingness to help you out.
• Help others. Being stranded, there are others like you. I once started crying in an airport after being kicked off yet another flight, and a woman gave me a bag of M&M's and a kleenex. Wow. It really made a difference, especially considering she had been there for almost three days. I later gave the bag of M&M's to a little girl on my flight who had also had a difficult time traveling. The Karma principle holds true, I believe, in most situations but is amplified in the airport world.
• People watch in the airport. It's very entertaining.
• Take care of all your business before you leave security. You don't want to have to go back to ask a question.
• REMEMBER the name of the agents you work with. Write it down if you have to. Once you leave security, the ticket agent can call them instead of you going back through security.
• If you're going to be in an airport for more than two hours, buy the internet pass for the day. It can help you take care of business, shop, find resources, and can serve as entertainment!
• Don't get drunk at the airport bar. You might not be allowed on a plane later (if a seat opens up) and it can impair your ability to be decisive and friendly under pressure. Save it for back at the hotel, if you must. Also, airport bars are almost designed to make you sit there all day and miss your plane, so beware.
• Plans change quickly. Repeat steps when necessary.