Anticipating and troubleshooting flight delays should start before you get to the airport. You will want to have an idea if weather or a late inbound aircraft might affect one of your flights or connections and proactively reach out to your airline for assistance. Getting stuck at the airport is the last thing you want to have happen during the busy holiday travel season.
It starts with checking your flight status.
I have found there is no single best place to check if a flight is actually running on-time. So, I check three sites to try and get the whole picture.
Website/Airline App: My first stop is to check on the app or website of the airline that I am flying. More often than not, the airline will say their flight is departing on-time...even when that is not the case. Most airlines are waiting until departure time to delay flights, which makes it frustrating for customers.
FlightAware.com: After checking the airline site, I take my flight number and plug it into FlightAware.com. FlightAware will show you the exact location of your plane and even shows you where your flight is coming from. Pay particular attention to the expected arrival time of your inbound aircraft. This is important since it allows you to predict delays to your flight before they happen.
I recently was flying from San Francisco to Denver and while United showed that my flight was running on time, I checked Flight Aware and noticed that my inbound flight was delayed several hours. I was able to call United and get switched to another flight before other passengers even knew about the delay. This becomes even more important during the holidays when there are fewer free seats to shuffle between flights. A serious delay our cancellation can mean you get stranded for hours, or even overnight.
While early morning flights regularly run on schedule, afternoon and evening flights are often delayed as the planes are coming from other places. The more segments ahead of yours, the more likely it is your flight might be delayed.
FAA Air Traffic Website: The third place that I check is the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center website. This site shows you up-to-date ATC briefings about weather, construction, and other occurrences that might cause inbound or outbound flights to be delayed.
If you see something strange, I suggest calling your airline proactively. You can use the information you found on these three sites when asking for assistance with swapping a flight. If you have the right information, you’ll be set to negotiate a change and hopefully mitigate any major issues in your holiday travels.
Flights during the holidays will be full. Sometimes so full, that gate agents will restrict carry-on baggage for those boarding last. While having your bag gate-checked is seldom a problem on a nonstop flight, if you are connecting to another flight the likelihood of your bag going missing increases exponentially.
The easiest way to get around this is to purchase priority boarding. While I hardly ever purchase it during other times of the year, it can be worthwhile it if I want to ensure I get to my destination with my carry-on all at the same time.
The cost of priority boarding depends on the airline and the flight length and can be purchased when checking-in online or at the airport.
Spending all day traveling can be stressful. Especially when you add in the chaos of busy airport terminals, limited seating areas, and scarce and overpriced food options. The best way to escape crazy terminal areas is to duck into an airline lounge.
Airline lounges are private oases within busy airports. They offer free snacks (avocado toast + guacamole bars), complimentary alcoholic beverages, comfortable and abundant seating options, clean bathrooms, showers (in some locations), and access to expert reservation agents that can help with last-minute flight changes or cancellations.
Contrary to what you might think, these spaces are not only accessible if you are flying in first class. Anyone can purchase a day pass to an airline lounge. American, United, and Delta all sell day passes to their lounges for $59. Traveling between multiple airports? You can lounge hop with the same day pass.
If you have not flown in awhile, you might be shocked to hear that food is no longer free on domestic flights and not all airlines give basic snacks. Some airlines pass out a free bag of pretzels or cookies with beverage service, but that is not going to be enough to hold you over on a six-hour transcontinental flight.
Most airlines (except Southwest) have buy-on-board options that range from breakfast sandwiches to cheeseburgers. However, if you are seated towards the middle or back of the plane, I would not count of them having much left by the time they make it to your seat.
To make things easier, I always travel with trail mix and Cliff bars in my bag. Stocking up at Trader Joe’s is easy and far cheaper than buying a mediocre $12 sandwich that has been frozen for days. Feeling hungrier? Most airport restaurants serve food to go, as do all airline lounges.
With these simple tips, you too can survive the holiday travel blitz. Safe travels!