I wrote this post in the midst of my own personal travel hell.
My flight from Washington, DC to Los Angeles was delayed by three and a half hours due to thunderstorms, making me miss my connection to Sydney.
You know, Australia.
Like the other side of the world.
Not a flight you just casually want to miss.
The next flight to Sydney was 24 hours later, meaning I’d have to kill time in Los Angeles for an entire day, and lose a day of my hard-earned vacation.
Cue allllll the hissy fit memes.
To put it bluntly, it was a crappy situation and it sucked. I’d waited a year for this vacation and it meant I had less time on the ground in Australia, a place I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a kid.
But in situations like this, it’s important to keep your wits about you and get through it with the most positive attitude possible.
I’m a pretty seasoned traveler and my experience with having to make a Plan B kicked in right away. My mind immediately went to flight delay insurance and researching the options I had. Here’s how I navigated the situation, and what you should do if you ever find yourself with an overnight trip delay.
First, don’t panic.
Remind yourself that the situation is going to be fluid, and you probably won’t get definitive answers to your questions right away. You’ll have to roll with the punches.
Once you’re in a major delay scenario, patience becomes the single most important ingredient to keeping your sanity.
Also, act respectfully toward customer service agents. They may not be able to do backflips through fiery hoops to help you, but they’ll do their best to get your travels back on track as soon as possible.
And if you do end up directing a loud, profanity-filled rant at a customer service agent, don’t be surprised if you find yourself starring in a viral cell phone video the next day. Seriously, don’t be that person. Also, karma.
Call the airline to learn your options.
I experienced the kind of delay where they trickle news to you every 15 minutes and move back the flight time in small increments.
Once we were delayed long enough where my connection was potentially in jeopardy, I called American Airlines. If you haven’t boarded the plane yet, talking to a customer service agent in the terminal is also an option.
Though I still didn’t know if I would make my connection or not, the agent on the other end of the line was able to look up alternate flight options so I would be prepared to act once I knew more about my first flight. I asked questions including:
- When is the earliest I can get to Australia if I can’t get out tonight?
- Are there earlier or more direct flights on other airlines? (Airlines can often place you on a better flight with another carrier for no charge. Be sure to ask if that is possible in your case.)
- Will I be able to stay in the same cabin on a rescheduled flight? (The answer was no for me, which was disappointing since my AAdvantage status earned me a Premium Economy seat on my flight to Sydney.)
- How many seats are available on the next flight out, and how good are my chances that I’ll be rebooked on it? (This question is especially important for those without airline status, as priority passengers will be bumped ahead of you for rebooking.)
- Will the airline cover my hotel and incidentals in the case of an overnight delay?
The agents I spoke to over multiple calls were very patient and helpful, answering all of my questions. While the news was disappointing, I felt better knowing that I had explored all of my options before rebooking myself on the flight the next day.
Look into the flight delay insurance protections you may have.
Unfortunately there are no laws in the United States mandating what travelers should receive if their flight is delayed. Still, there are avenues you can explore if you find yourself in a major delay situation.
Travel delay protections usually come from three places:
- The airline, with a qualified delay. The cause of the delay dictates whether or not you’ll receive support from your carrier. If it’s a mechanical issue or a delay that the airline had any control over, you may receive compensation (this varies by carrier – here’s a roundup of some of the best delay policies). In most cases they will provide a hotel room and a food voucher if your delay is overnight. When it comes to air traffic control decisions or “acts of God” like weather, you’re out of luck. That was the case with my Sydney flight. Having a delay due to weather meant the airline would not provide me with a hotel, and I had to look to my flight delay insurance to cover my expenses for the 24 hours I was stranded. That’s where the next two points kick in.
- The credit card you booked with. If you have a travel credit card and paid for your ticket with it, you may have flight delay insurance baked in. For example, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I could file a claim for my hotel, food, certain forms of transportation, and necessary self-care items (such as toothpaste) for the length of my delay. I called them to confirm the protections before charging anything so I could be confident that my hotel stay fell within their spending limits. Sadly, they wouldn’t let me book a room at the Four Seasons. The Marriott at the airport did just fine.
- Separate travel insurance. Having travel insurance for long and/or international trips is a necessary expense to cover yourself in the event of accident, injury, or travel interruption. Insurance protects you from situations just like this.I had booked trip insurance through World Nomads for my Australia trip, and would have had that as recourse if I didn’t already have a credit card that covered me.
Of course, if you have friends or family where you’re stranded, make a party of it! Since I was stuck in L.A. for 24 hours, I called up a couple friends and was able to catch up with them during my long delay.
Bonus: my flight delay insurance paid for my meals so I didn’t have to subsist off of fast food (though I had to provide receipts, so I couldn’t go hog wild).
Check in with an airline customer service agent at the airport if you have any remaining questions or issues.
They are there to help, and can make suggestions for the types of arrangements to make during your delay. But be aware that they are not your personal travel agents – you’ll be responsible for making any arrangements yourself that aren’t covered by the carrier (which, in most cases, will be most/all of them).
Also, don’t forget to check on the status of your checked luggage before you leave the airport. It’ll likely be held at the airport until your next flight since it’s already checked in, but if you need it, you should be able to retrieve it from baggage services.
It’s always best practice to pack essential toiletries and an extra day of clothes in your carry-on in case you do get stranded somewhere. If you do this, you shouldn’t need to retrieve your checked bag.
I didn’t heed this advice for my Australia trip and paid dearly by having to re-wear the same clothes for 48 hours.
Don’t be like me. Always pack spare clothes.
Try to maintain a positive attitude.
Don’t get me wrong, travel delays suck. I was extremely disappointed to miss a day of my vacation in Australia. But at the same time, I was still on vacation even if it wasn’t where I had wanted or expected to be. So I tried to treat it that way.
I caught up with friends that I hadn’t seen in years, did some work for my blog (like writing this post), and made the most of it. The delay is already a drag, so don’t make it worse on yourself by wallowing in it.
Have you been stranded before? Do you have any other trips for major flight delays or interruptions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!