10 Easy Tips for Coping with Airport Delays at Thanksgiving

A record 28.5 million people will be traveling on domestic airlines this Thanksgiving (an uptick of nearly 3% over last year), and no doubt some people will experience flight delays. Already, weather reports suggest storm systems could produce delays and cancellations in the Midwest and northeast. 

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Should this happen to you, we have some fast and easy coping techniques to help you get through this trying situation with the least amount of stress and your positive attitude intact.

1. Check your status with the airline and reconfirm.
Let’s face it. No one is going to stay on top of your travel details for you. Our number one tip for staying abreast of changing situations is to stay in communication with the airline and there’s quite a few ways to do this. 24 hours prior to travel, check your flight status and reconfirm with the airline.

2. Stay connected using your phone.
When you know you’re headed into weather trouble spots, keep a close eye on your phone – most airlines will now send you schedule changes and cancelations via text. If that’s not an option, email is still a good way to stay in touch. Don’t forget to check it before your trip.

3. Get out ahead of the problem.
If weather is a brewing concern, call the airline in advance and see if they have any “Plan B” options in play already. In some cases, they may be able to reroute you to avoid bad weather, usually at no additional charge.

4. Do a last minute check-in.
Before you leave the house on your travel day, check your flight departure status so you save yourself a trip to the airport if there’s going to be a big delay or even a cancellation. Better to be in the comfort of home when you’re trying to come up with a backup plan.

5. Fly nonstop for the Holidays.
Connecting flights are often cheaper flights. But think it through. When weather starts affecting flights around the country, it creates problems everywhere. If you’ve got connections in bad weather, you’re much more likely to get stuck somewhere not part of your plans. If you absolutely can’t avoid connections altogether, try to choose connecting cities unlikely to experience weather delays, like Phoenix or Atlanta (both of which have some of the best on-time records in the country).

6. Fly Early in the Day.
The flights most at risk of not arriving on time are scheduled afternoon and evening flights – in fact a recent study done by the Department of Transportation over a 5-year period shows that 86.2% of November and December holiday flights scheduled to arrive between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. arrived on time. Flights scheduled to land between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. only made it on time about 67% of the time. Go out early morning for the best on-time odds.

7. Know your limits.
If you find yourself stuck indefinitely at the airport due to a blizzard and your trip is optional, you might want to cancel altogether and head home. If the flight you are booked on is ultimately canceled, you are entitled to a full refund for the price that you paid, even if the ticket was non-refundable.

8. But also know the penalties and fine print….
If the flight you were booked on does take off eventually and you chose cancellation, you will only be eligible for a credit toward a future flight, minus a penalty. Make sure you understand what that penalty is before you take this option: for domestic flights, most airlines charge $200. There is also no guarantee that the new ticket you buy with your credit will be the same price and the airline is not required to honor the original price.

9. Go VIP when you’re stranded.
Waiting in the airport is not the drag it used to be. In most cases, if you’re stuck in a major hub, you now have lots of entertainment options including meditation rooms, movie theatres and even spa services. You might want to throw in for a day pass for your airline’s lounge and pamper yourself while you wait. Complimentary drinks, snacks, concierge service and comfy seating can be worth it when you’re stranded and you might find the nominal cost worth the VIP service.

10. Pack light and play nice.
It’s always a karmic plus to be nice to the gate agents and flight attendants so please – do that no matter what! But did you now that packing light might actually get you to your final destination when there are delays? Here’s why. When gate agents are scrambling to get detained travelers on other flights, the easiest to move (those with little to no baggage) can sometimes get to the head of the line. It’s purely logistical. Someone with many bags and a pet carrier, plus a stroller and four carry-ons can’t necessarily sprint across the airport to catch another flight. Travel light. You might get there faster!

Chances are you’re not going to need these tips. But if you do, take a deep breath and relax. You’ll get there. Read through our Holiday Flights Report for more great data on which travel days offer the best value for the rest of the season. Happy travels!

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