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Here's What to Do If You're Stuck in Flight-Delay Hell

Illustration for article titled Heres What to Do If Youre Stuck in Flight-Delay Hell
Photo: Getty Images

So, you’re one of the thousands of people currently stuck in airport limbo as the FAA grapples with staffing shortages. You’ve watched in dismay as flight boards flip from green to red. You’re tired and just want to get where you need to go.


What do you do?

Step 1: Cry.

It’s okay. Let it out—your emotions of rage and frustration are valid. Shake a fist in the general direction of Washington, D.C., and the orange chupacabra in charge.


Step 2: Preserve your phone battery.

Sure, you probably packed a handy charger and external battery for cases just like this. But those only last so long, and battling for free outlets at airports is the last thing you want to do while on the phone with airline carriers. It can’t hurt to switch on battery saver mode, decrease brightness, and kill power-guzzling apps. Here’s a handy guide to all the things that could be draining your smartphone battery.

Step 3: Know your rights, flex those fingers, and get dialing.

Unlike in Europe, the U.S. doesn’t have the best protections or compensation policies in the event of a delayed or cancelled flight. There’s a chance your airline carrier will tell you’re out of luck, as unfortunately there are no federal regulations saying airlines have to compensate you. While they typically will in instances where it’s the airline’s fault, like with mechanical failures, but in cases like today where labor issues are the source of a problem, an airline may choose to cite “force majeure—basically an ‘act of god’ out of their control.


Still, it’s an extremely bad look and bad business for airlines if tons of people fire up Twitter and publicly blast airlines for being shitty. And if lines to talk to an agent are stretching down the terminal, your best bet is to call up your airline’s customer service and hang in there until someone answers. Make sure to ask for a refund or, barring that, food and accommodation vouchers.

Also, do a few breathing exercises and plaster your biggest smile on your face before speaking to a rep. Sometimes if you ask nicely, you can get rebooked on an alternate airline at no extra fee. However, no airline is necessarily obligated to do that. That said, if you’ve racked up a crapton of points and miles as part of a loyalty program, feel free (within reason) to wave that around—it is a fact of late stage capitalism that higher-status members will get helped first.


If you can’t find a free agent at the counter, and if angry-tweeting hasn’t panned out, here’s a list with contact information for most of the major U.S. carriers:

Step 4: Call your credit card company.

If that doesn’t work and you happened to book your flight on a travel-oriented credit card (especially if it’s an airline rewards card), you might have some protections already built in. It depends on the individual card, but some come with built-in travel insurance for delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, or even death. Here’s a convenient list of credit cards with these features. And if you don’t have one of these cards, but travel a lot, you might want to consider getting one.


Step 5: If you haven’t already, download your airline’s app.

Not all airline apps are equal. But in the event of long lines and time spent on-hold on the phone, sometimes a carrier’s app will get you quicker flight status info. If you’re really lucky, it might even let you change your itinerary in the app itself.


Step 6: Drink.

You’ve done all the things. You’ve either been successful and are now boarding a new flight, or you’ve got some time to kill. Either way, airports have bars and bars have booze (as well as other beverages for the non-drinkers among us). Hopefully you have a meal voucher that you can use to buy yourself your beverage of choice, raise an ironic glass to our fat cat corporate overlords, and commiserate with your fellow stranded travelers.


Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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Sure, you probably packed a handy charger and external battery for cases just like this.

I travel with a 21,000 mah battery, or enough to keep my phone powered for the better part of a week, plus it has power delivery so it can keep a modest laptop going at full steam too. Totally worth it’s weight in gold.