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The Art of Surviving Unexpected Travel Delays: 8 Ways to Prepare for When You’re Stuck at the Airport

Written by Sucheta Rawal

This blog post was updated on January 27, 2022.

With holidays around the corner, chances are you will encounter larger crowds and weather-related delays while traveling. It’s a frustrating fact about air travel and being equipped with the right tools and knowledge can seriously save you some stress and aggregations in case you end up getting stuck in an airport.

Here are 8 things you can do to be ready to survive an expected travel delay like a proficient traveler.

Get Travel Insurance

Most travel insurance policies cover overnight stays, medical expenses, delayed or lost baggage, trip cancellations and airline change fees. So they’re kind of perfect to have if you ever encounter a horror-story travel delay that leaves you stranded for days. Most people opt out of the added travel insurance option when booking cheap flights and trips, but it can often come handy. The trip-focused plans are pretty affordable, but if you travel frequently you want to look into getting an annual travel insurance plan so it’s always there.

Pack for a Disaster
Surviving Unexpected Travel Delays - Pack

As I waited for my delayed flight at the one-room airport in Siargao for 7 hours without running water or food, I was quite self-sufficient. My backpack is always stocked with emergency supplies in case I need to crash on the floor of an airport or bus station. These include granola bars, a water bottle, wet wipes, a blanket, a neck pillow, medicine, chargers, headphones, earplugs, an eye mask, a pollution mask, some basic toiletries, and a change of clothes.

Keep Some Cash on You
Surviving Unexpected Travel Delays - Cash

Most travelers say they prefer to carry little cash on them and use an ATM or pay with credit cards, but there are times when the ATM won’t work (especially in foreign banks) or you don’t have enough time to go look for a machine. Meanwhile, you have a few minutes to hop on the next bus or take a cab to a neighboring airport. When Eilat airport shut down due to a desert storm at the Israel-Jordan border, I had to quickly turn to cash to get a cheap hotel for the night and a bus ticket for early morning — both of which only accepted cash.

Get an International Roaming Plan

Staying connected especially when flight international means you can subscribe to flight alerts, rebook, and inform family and friends on the fly. It also equips you with knowledge of where you are stuck and how to make the most of it.

One of my connections to Skopje ended up getting canceled and I was stuck in Belgrade for 10 hours without Wi-Fi, lounges or even a decent coffee shop. So, I got out of the airport, took a bus to the city center, checked out some of the attractions, and had an enjoyable day. Until that day, I did not know anything about Serbia, but thanks to my free international data roaming plan I quickly looked up the currency, language, and places of interest.

Make a ‘Plan B’ Folder of Apps on Your Phone

Also on my smartphone is a list of apps that come in handy in case of delays. I have Google maps, CityMapper Eber, WhatsApp, HotelsTonight, Airbnb, FLIO, and Google Trips, to name a few. Download the app of the airline you are traveling on for faster access to rebooking, complaints, and monitoring flights. Remember, different airlines have different policies on rerouting and reimbursements, so it’s good to have this information handy. In case of a problem, you should be ready to contact the airline through social media, phone, and in-person (all at once) for a faster outcome.

Carry Some Offline Entertainment Options

Just because you have a global data plan, doesn’t mean you will be able to enjoy high-speed access. Download movies and your favorite sitcoms from Netflix and Amazon Play (which are free if you have a subscription) so you can watch them offline during delays and on long trips. Also, if you’re carrying extra power like a USB power bank or smart suitcase, you won’t have to worry about finding an outlet to charge your laptop or tablet.

Apply for a Valid Visa Through Transiting Countries
Surviving Unexpected Travel Delays - Visa

If you are not planning to go out during a layover, you are not required to have a transient visa. But if you do end up getting stranded there, it’s helpful to have a visa proactively so you have the option to get out on your own. Many airports (Salt Lake City, Reykjavík, Taiwan, Tokyo-Narita, Singapore, Doha, Seoul, Istanbul,) also offer free city tours with visas to travelers transiting for less than 24 hours.

Two Words: Lounge Access
Surviving Unexpected Travel Delays - Lounge

If your travel delay happens to be late at night and going out is not possible, you should think about shelling out for access to an airline lounge or hourly rentable airport hotel. They’re way more comfortable than trying to stretch out at the terminal. You might even consider getting a premium credit card or join the airline’s loyalty program to get free lounge access.

Do you have a traveling tip to share with our readers? Go ahead and share them with us in the comments section!

About the author

Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 60+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give, which promotes cultural awareness through food, travel and volunteering. Sucheta is the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures.

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