The busiest travel season on record has begun and will last through Jan. 5. An estimated 47.5 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines according to experts—up 3% from last year. Throw weather into the equation and your chances of getting stranded while waiting for a flight increase immeasurably.
If you’ve ever set foot in an airport, you know what a ripoff that place can be if you have to buy basic necessities while you wait for a flight. The delay alone is going to feel like you’re out of luck, but your lack of planning can quickly take you out of money, too.
Over the years, having traveled more than 1.5 million miles myself and spending more than a few nights in an airport—I’ve learned that it’s easy and super smart to prepare and anticipate the inevitable.
Here are my best tips for surviving an extended stay in an airport.
Part of your plan
Assume you will be delayed. Just plan on it. Then if you are not, what a nice bonus. But always prepare with an extended delay in mind.
These 7 things
Always carry these seven things with you. Every airline allows you at least one free carry-on bag. Make sure it includes:
Of course, if you are stranded for a long time, you’ll be forced to buy airport food, ka-ching! But statistically, your delay will be short—a few hours—so the healthy snacks you are carrying will be more than sufficient.
Empty water bottle
I would rather shove toothpicks under my fingernails than pay $4 or more for a bottle of water in the airport gift shop. Make sure you have an empty water bottle in your carry-on bag, then once through Security, fill it up at a water fountain or bottle filling station which most airports have now,
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Sleeping in an airport is bad enough. Waking up with dry, morning mouth is even worse. Brushing your teeth might not fix the plane situation right away, but it will do wonders for your attitude.
It’s an easy thing to tuck into your bag. Trust me on this. Keep a pair with you. Cleaning up after a long night will make your day so much better.
Sweatshirt or travel blanket
Airports are notorious for being cold, especially late at night. If you must sleep, you’re going to want something warm and comfy.
Of course, you need this with you. Consider an extra fully charged battery, too. The phone charging areas will be crowded and the outlets overloaded if more than a plane or two has been grounded.
Something to do
A good book, crossword puzzles, sudoku—anything that will help pass the time, not require an electronic device, and help you escape the situation at hand.
Know your rights
Airlines operate under a cadre of rules—many of them having to do with passenger rights. But they’re also granted many leeways when it comes to delays. For example, the federal government doesn’t require airlines to offer any compensation for a delayed flight.
Even though it may not be required by law, many airlines will offer vouchers for food, hotel, and taxi—but you need to ask. It’s considered good customer service, so speak up.
If you are involuntarily bumped because your flight is overbooked—and you arrive more than two hours late, you may be eligible for four times the price of your ticket up to $1,350. Learn more about how to collect on that here. Good idea: Print these guidelines and keep them in your carry-on bag.
Check your credit card
The one you used to purchase your ticket. Some offer reimbursement for travel delays, so keep your receipts. There will be stipulations, like food and lodging up to $500 if delayed longer than six hours. Know this stuff before you go. You will feel so much more in control when things go sideways at an airport.
As you deal with airline and airport personnel, remember they want to get home for the holidays, too. It’s no fun for them when flights get canceled and airports are jam-packed with angry passengers, all of them waiting for the weather to clear. There is nothing that your yelling or getting upset will do to hasten a solution to this situation, so just be patient. And nice.
Get some sleep
If you know you can’t get out until tomorrow or many hours from now, find a place you can get some sleep. Sleeping in airports is a website where travelers share their experiences and advice with fellow airport sleepers. You’ll discover some really cool—even fun—stuff about airports and exact places no one else knows about where you can get some sleep! And set an alarm on your phone. Trust me on this. No one is going to hunt you down to wake you up for your new flight!