Stressed woman at airport
Dabl At Home Dec 2020
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Dabl at Home

How To Successfully Survive Even Your Worst Airport Nightmares

With airports only becoming increasingly hectic, here are the tips and tricks you need in order to be prepared for any scenario you may encounter the next time you fly!

By: Catie Kovelman, Updated 01/08/2022 

Even in the best of times, navigating airports and flying can be stressful. Travelers may have to deal with long lines for security and bag checks, delayed flights or missed connections, lost luggage, and getting themselves to their plane’s gate timely. And despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, travelers have returned to understaffed airports eager to re-enter the world in full force. 

Many airports that were ghost towns a few months ago are now mobbed with wall-to-wall people, with the stress of travel, mask mandates, and navigating crowds culminating in unprecedented amounts of violent outbursts. While the FAA normally reports between 100 to 200 incidents involving unruly passengers that warrant investigation each year, that number skyrocketed to 1,054 in 2021. That said, nearly 6,000 reports of unruly passenger behavior were filed in the last year. In the past year, we’ve seen altercations between passengers over something as simple as sharing armrests, punched and beaten flight attendants, and even attempted break-ins to the airplane’s cockpit. 

Making matters even worse, the COVID-19 surge caused by the omicron variant and Winter weather has caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations during the peak holiday travel season. To be more specific, more than 20,000 flights have been canceled since Christmas Eve with daily cancellations continuing in the new year. This is largely due to infected flight crews calling out sick and inclement weather that makes it unsafe to fly. Getting in touch with airlines to rebook travel typically means waiting in long lines with other stranded passengers or sitting on hold for hours when you try to call airline customer service teams. 

Since it seems like navigating airports in 2022 will be just as turbulent (if not more) than it was in 2021, it’s important that you have contingency plans in place the next time you fly that will help you stay safe and reach your destination on time. While many people haven’t encountered any issues flying, you need to be prepared in case your flight is impacted by a delay or cancellation, starting with smart planning and entering the airport with the right attitude. If you find yourself stuck in the airport on your next trip, here are 9 tips and tricks to help you safely and calmly reach your destination.  

Give yourself extra time. 

In general, airlines advise passengers to arrive about 2 hours before their flight to ensure they will be able to make it to their gate on time. That said, we would suggest you arrive 3 hours prior to the boarding time until the post-pandemic travel rush dies down. Many airports are much more crowded than normal, and lines are longer than usual. If you are flying to an important event, such as a wedding or a cruise, try to fly out at least a day or two early. This will give you a buffer to reach your destination on time in the event you encounter major delays or your flight is cancelled. 

Look for loopholes to get through the airport faster. 

While it won’t be financially feasible for everyone, purchasing first class or priority tickets may mean less time waiting in line and more time relaxing. These travelers often have access to shorter lines, early boarding, private lounges in the airport, and other perks. If you fly frequently, you may also be eligible for quicker lines and perks if you become a member with your favorite airline, such as by joining Delta’s SkyPriority or reaching MileagePlus Premier status with United. 

If you want to avoid long lines to make it through security, consider getting yourself a known traveller number and signing up for TSA PreCheck. People with TSA PreCheck typically have to wait less than 5 minutes to go through security, and can be accompanied by minors under the age of 12. Passengers with TSA PreCheck also don’t have to deal with the stress of taking off their shoes and belts, or removing liquids, electronics, and food from their carry-on bag for extensive screening. Find out how to sign up and start your application for TSA PreCheck here

Carefully pack your carry-on bag.

When you pack your carry-on bag, don’t forget to pack any essentials you can’t live without for more than a couple days, and some small toiletries on hand in the event you get stranded in an airport or your checked luggage gets lost. Keep any important valuables you’d be heartbroken to lose on your person, as well as important medications. It may also be a good idea to pack one additional outfit, a backup pair of underwear, deodorant and a toothbrush. This will help you stay comfortable if you are stranded for an extended period of time, and give you a change of clothes to wear if your luggage gets lost and you need time to find it or replace its contents. In addition, make sure to pack a phone charger or portable charger to help you stay connected with loved ones and any airline communication that is sent your way. 

Multi-task when you need help.

If your flight has been delayed or cancelled, you’ll likely find yourself in long lines to receive help from airport staff members. While you are waiting, be proactive. For example, you may want to call the airline while you are waiting in line. You could find yourself speaking to a customer service representative and finding a solution much sooner than you would make it to the help desk, and then you won’t have to wait in the full line. Most airlines also now have smartphone apps where you can browse alternate flights and make changes from your phone. Speaking of smartphones, don’t be afraid to check flights on other airlines if you’re in a bind, as they could have better prices or more convenient departure times. 

Know your rights. 

Unfortunately, there is currently no U.S. federal law or regulation that determines what rights you have in the event your flight is cancelled. Each airline has its own protocol for handling delays and flight cancellation which you may want to review before you book your trip. However, you do have certain rights if you are delayed on an airplane that’s stuck on the tarmac, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask that they be enforced. Unless there is a special exception or safety reason, passengers cannot be held on a tarmac for more than three hours on domestic flights, and four hours on international flights. After that time has passed, passengers have to be given the option to deplane. In addition, passengers must be offered food, drinks, operational bathroom access, and any necessary medical care after two hours on the tarmac. 

Stay calm and kind.

If you find yourself stuck in a sticky situation, the best thing you can do is to stay calm and level-headed. Of course, you have every right to ask the airline for accommodations or a new flight in the event of a delay, cancellation, or other problem, but remember to do so politely. The customer service representative or flight attendant who is helping you resolve your situation likely did not cause the problem, and therefore you should avoid taking any anger out on them.
Remember that the other passengers are trying to reach their destinations just like you are, so be kind to your fellow travelers as well. 

If you become too hostile, airlines have the right to deny you boarding and can even have you escorted out of the airport by security. If an incident takes place once onboard the plane, the airline can reroute the plane to remove you from the flight even after it has taken off if you are deemed to be a danger or too disruptive. Depending on the nature of the incident, you could face hefty fines and criminal charges. 

On the flip side, airline workers are typically more eager to pull some strings where they can and help passengers who treat them with kindness. Therefore, even when you are feeling frustrated and stressed, the best thing you can do is to take a deep breath and maintain your calm composure. You, the airline staff, flight crew, and other passengers all want to have a smooth flying experience. Remaining calm and cool makes flying better for all involved. 

Ask the right questions. 

If you have to change your flight at the last minute, try not to jump on the first flight you see without thinking it through first. Make sure to consider changes in price, length of any layovers, your arrival time, and what will happen to baggage that is already checked with the airline. While your desire to reach your final destination may be strong, you may ultimately regret choosing a flight that your luggage won’t make on time or costs significantly more money. 

Make the most of it. 

On occasion, travelers will find themselves stuck in the airport for an extended period of time and there is simply nothing to be done about it except wait. Instead of getting upset, try to make the most of your time. Consider grabbing a bite to eat, treating yourself to a drink or dessert, or going shopping in the stores located throughout the terminal. As you explore, you might be surprised by some of the amenities you find, from museum exhibits for entertainment and showers for hygiene purposes. If you get tired, find a corner to take a nap, or use the airport’s wifi to play games on your phone or watch a movie. 

Avoid the airport altogether.

If you don’t want to deal with the insanity that comes with airports, consider traveling to your destination through alternate means. For example, Summer is the perfect time of year to take a road trip, and you can stop and explore new locations and experiences along your route. Amtrak also has trains that travel locally and cross country, where you can take in beautiful views as you travel to popular cities, landmarks, and national parks. 

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