It’s everyone’s travel nightmare. After making sure you get to the airport extra early because of the delays at check-in and security, you finally get to your gate and find a seat, preferably near a power plug. You hope there are no yelling children around, or adults talking with their phone on speaker mode. You start reading your book on your Kindle or watch some cute video of cats on your phone to pass the time. When it’s almost boarding time for your flight, there’s one
small HUGE problem – there’s no plane at the gate. You think, “There’s no way we’re leaving on time but if we were delayed, wouldn’t the airline tell us?” Well, not necessarily.
The dread of knowing you only have 90 minutes to make your connecting flight and who knows how long you’re going to be delayed sets in. You’d stand at the counter to ask one of the employees but you notice the line is already 15 people deep with fellow travelers who already had the same thoughts as you. If you’re waiting for the airline to let you know about a delay, you’re already WAY BEHIND THE CURVE.
Being prepared for a travel delay or cancellation is just like getting ready for a snowstorm or a hurricane. You don’t want to be the person rushing to the store the last minute to stock up on milk, bread, water, toilet paper (and possibly alcohol) and all you find are empty shelves. You need to have your emergency kit prepared ahead of time. This means you need to have several important travel apps ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Here are things you can do when your flight is delayed or cancelled that will, hopefully, help you get to your destination:
The first thing to do is check on the status of your flight before you leave for the airport. There are many ways to do this but one of the easiest is to use the airline’s app for your phone. I’d suggest downloading this before you leave home. It’s easier if you have your frequent flyer account set up in the app but it’s not necessary to just check on flight status.
For the rest of this example I’ll use a flight we took last year from Charlotte to Orlando. We were flying on Delta and had a 90 minute connection in Atlanta. Everything looked fine until we got to the airport – that’s when things started to go sideways.
Keep Yourself Informed
Because we weren’t checking bags, we went right to security and then to our gate. When we settled down in our seats, I pulled out my phone to check the status of our flight using one of my favorite iPhone travel apps, FlightAware.
Using the app, it’s super easy to check your flight’s status. What I find really useful is the button on the top of the screen that says “Where is my plane right now?” With this, you can track your inbound plane (the plane you will be getting on) as it flies to your airport. This was not what I wanted to see while I was seated at Charlotte Airport (CLT). (Note: these screenshots are from after the flight)
So while the plane left on time, the new arrival time to Charlotte was 5:14 PM because of the weather. Considering that our plane was supposed to leave at 5:15 PM, I knew we were going to be delayed. We had a 90 minute layover in Atlanta so even with a 45 minute delay we should still make our next flight, albeit with a dash through the airport. Around 4:45PM, the posted boarding time, I received a text message from Delta telling me the flight was delayed (I knew this about 15 minutes before; I had checked on my app). Shortly after that, the Delta agents announced our plane would be delayed (as if the concert of phone messages a minute before wasn’t enough) and our new departure time would be around 6:00 PM. They asked anyone with connecting flights leaving Atlanta before 7:30PM to approach the counter so they could work to accommodate them on different flights. This was a proactive move that I don’t often see and kudos to the Delta agents for this.
Don’t Paint Yourself Into A Corner
I try to never book the last flight of the night and I did remember there was at least one, or maybe two, flights from Atlanta to Orlando after the one we were scheduled to be on. I figured if we missed our connection we could make it onto one of those flights.
I next checked the status of our incoming connecting flight. Sometimes all flights are running late and you have nothing to worry about if you arrive late, because everyone else is, too. No such luck there.
It looked like our connecting flight would be leaving on time whether we were on it or not. Not much I could do right now. It looked like we would be fine but I was still ready.
Everything went in order (as much as these things can during a flight delay) until we boarded our plane in Charlotte. It started off fine – everyone had managed to get into their seats and get all their carry-on baggage stowed. But that’s when the captain thanked us for our patience and informed us we were on a ground hold. In short, we were all ready to go but didn’t have the clearance from Air Traffic Control to leave. Weather was still not great in Charlotte and we had to wait about 15 minutes to be cleared to fly.
We eventually were cleared to take off at 6PM. With the additional delay, we’d be in real risk of missing our connecting flight.
When we hit cruising altitude the captain told us that despite his attempt to make up some time, he couldn’t do much on a short flight since we were flying into a strong headwind. I was fortunate that the Delta plane we were on had WiFi. This meant that as soon as we were over 10,000 feet, I could start looking for options. If the plane wasn’t WiFi enabled, I would have been working on options the second we landed and I could turn off airplane mode on my phone.
Know Your Options
I spent almost the entire flight figuring out our options. Knowing that sometimes you can use the official app on the WiFi for free, I was able to do most of what I wanted with just Delta’s app but I would have gladly paid for WiFi access if I needed to; it would be a small price to pay if it helped me get home that evening. When I opened the Delta app on my phone, I immediately received a pop-up box offering to re-book me on different flights because of my delay. I thought this was a wonderful feature until I was shown the options, all of which were for flights the next day. Staying overnight in Atlanta wasn’t the preferred outcome, so I kept looking. I used the app to search flights leaving Atlanta that night. Neither of the later flights to Orlando were showing up (I guess they were all sold out) but there was a flight from Atlanta to Tampa leaving later that night. I filed that away in my head, as it’s only about an hour drive and if need be, we could rent a car or even Uber back to Orlando.
The Delta App had another wonderful feature that showed how to get from your arriving flight to your departing flight. It was even step by step, with an approximate time. We were departing from different, yet adjacent terminals. So we’d have to get from our plane to the underground train over to the next terminal, then to the gate, It was estimating 10 minutes. I knew exactly how to get there so there would be no wasted time.
So here was my plan for when we landed:
SprintWalk as fast as we could to the gate and hope we make the connection.
- If we missed the flight, find the nearest Delta Sky Club and see if they could get us on stand by for any other flights that night to Orlando or even Tampa, since the agents who work there tend to be the most knowledgeable for solving problems (I have access to the Sky Club because I have an American Express Platinum Card. If you have an AMEX Delta Card, you can access the club for $25, and if you don’t have the card, you can still get in for $50).
- If there were no flights that night, find a hotel near the airport so we can get some sleep before having to fly out at 6AM the next morning (and keep my receipts to make a claim with my credit card travel delay coverage).
Follow Your Plan (And Know Your Travel Buddy)
While we waited for what felt like forever for our fellow travelers to gather their belongings and leave the plane, we confirmed our plan. We pulled our bags from the overhead and were on our way. Off the plane, onto the jetway, into the terminal. Left turn. Find escalator to train. Walk down escalator to train and the train doors close.
@!#?@! Sorry not sorry for the Q*Bert reference.
Quick decision: should we walk it? I looked up and it said “NEXT TRAIN 50 seconds” That was the longest 50 seconds in history. On the train. Off the train. Up the escalator, walking up (no time to waste), walk the 4 minutes to gate A5.
It was at this point I realized that no matter how hard Sharon tried to keep up with me, my long legs would get me to the gate before she would. Using that to my advantage, I just went, jogging the rest of the way to the gate. A11, A9, A7, The door is still open and people are there! Breathe, breathe. Almost There! A5!
Me: Can we still get on the plane?????
Delta Agent: Sure. Where you coming from?
Me: Charlotte! Gate B18! (breathe). My wife is right behind me, Wait a sec.
Delta Agent: Oh, the way you’re huffing there I figured you were from the E Gates.
Forgive me for not laughing at the airplane terminal humor at the time as I still was catching my breath and looking for Sharon. She finally got there, and we were allowed onto the plane after having to gate check our carry on bags because the overhead bins were full (they weren’t, but we were not in the mood to argue).
We spent the next 10 minutes catching our breath (and the next 10 trying not to heave from the guy in our row spitting the juice from his chewing tobacco into a Gatorade bottle he brought with him for just such a purpose. Reminder, please don’t be this guy or gal on the plane). In all, we were grateful we were able to make it home on time with no further problems.
To be prepared for delays, it helps if you have these things:
- Your smartphone (fully charged)
- The app of the airline you’re flying with installed on your phone
With these tools, you should be able to stay ahead of most of the other travelers. That means you’ll have a greater chance to get to your destination with a minimum of inconvenience.
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