9 Ways to Survive Being Stranded in an Airport — Without Going Broke

Updated December 4, 2016
by Susan Shain
Senior Writer
Stuck at the airport

Traveling is my favorite activity on the planet.

But I totally understand why some people hate it — especially air travel. The cancellations, the delays, the crowds, the headaches; when it doesn’t go smoothly, it can be pretty miserable.

Luckily, over the miles and the years, I’ve learned some ways to survive being stuck at the airport — without going broke (or insane).

Here are nine of my best survival tips.

1. Always Carry These 6 Things

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

Although I rarely check a bag, I know it’s not always an option for many people.

Whether you’re carrying-on or checking, I recommend never boarding a plane without these essentials:  

  • Snacks: Airport food = bleh. If you’re stranded for long enough, you’ll of course have to buy some — but healthy snacks can tide you over in a short delay.
  • Empty water bottle: You can’t bring liquids through security — but an empty bottle? You’re golden. Don’t fall victim to the $4 airport water.
  • Warm sweatshirt: It’s like the universal law of airports and airplanes that they’re either hotter than Florida in July or colder than Chicago in January. If you don’t end up wearing it — but let’s be real, you probably will — you can use it as a pillow.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste: When you’re having a rough travel day, brushing your teeth can make a world of difference. Trust me on this one.
  • Phone charger: Do you really need an explanation?
  • Good book: Books don’t need power. So instead of fighting at the outlet with a bunch of randos, you can enrich your brain in your own space.  

2. Invest in Karma

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

Though more and more airports are getting on board, not all of them have free Wi-fi. And I can tell you from experience: Boingo is the worst.

So even though it’s not an essential, I do want to let you know about Karma Go, a $99 mobile hotspot device. (No, they’re not paying me to say that.)

Yes, It’s an expensive upfront cost, but for frequent travelers in need of Wi-fi, it might be worth it. Plus, you get free data whenever someone uses your device!

3. Know Your Rights

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

Unfortunately, the most common problem won’t lead to any money in the bank: The federal government doesn’t require airlines to offer any compensation for a delayed flight.

That applies to canceled flights, too. (If traveling to or from Europe, the rules are different.)

But even though you’re not entitled to it, you can still ask for meal, hotel and taxi vouchers, frequent flyer miles or airline credit. If you get lucky, the airline might give you something in the name of good customer service.

And if you’re unwillingly bumped because your flight is overbooked, you’re eligible for some big bucks: Arrive more than two hours late, and the airline owes you quadruple the price of your ticket, up to $1,350!

Curious for more details? Click here for a comprehensive look at airline passenger rights.

4. Be Nice

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

Look, I want you to be aware of your rights — but I don’t want you to be a jerkface about them.

Being stranded in the airport sucks, and nobody knows better than the people who work at the airport.

So don’t take it out on them: Be nice, be patient.

Remember: They didn’t wish this snowstorm or mechanical failure on you. They probably want to go home to their families as much as you do. The only difference is you aren’t getting screamed at by a merry-go-round of very unmerry passengers.

As hard as it can be sometimes, being nice does pay off. One gate agent surprised me with a business class upgrade on an overseas flight just because I was patient during a long delay.

5. Book Your Hotel

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

As soon as you know you’re going to be stuck overnight, get a hotel on the horn. Book for that night, and if it looks like a massive delay, a few extra just in case (after checking on the hotel’s cancellation policy, of course).

Thanks to the law of supply and demand, some hotels jack up prices as soon as they find out about travel troubles — so booking right away could mean better rates.

If you don’t find availability near the airport, don’t be afraid to venture further afield. With the proliferation of ridesharing services, staying outside the airport’s general vicinity can sometimes save you quite a bit of money.

6. Turn to Your Credit Card

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

If you paid for your tickets with a credit card, it’s time to read the fine print.

Because you might just get lucky: Some offer reimbursement for travel delays.

My Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example, reimburses the cost of meals and lodging when air travel is delayed by more than six hours or requires an overnight stay. The policy covers up to $500 per ticket for the cardholder, their spouse or domestic partner and dependent children under 22. (I didn’t get paid to tell you that, either.)

7. Jump on Twitter

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

Not getting any traction with the airline in-person or on the phone? Try social media.

It sounds crazy, but I’ve gotten excellent service by sending out tweets and @mentioning the company. Even on occasions where I wasn’t having any luck over email or on the phone, they’ve responded to me quickly via tweet.

And I don’t think it’s just because I’m with the media either; even airline reps make the same suggestion.

8. Buy a Lounge Pass

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

Airport lounges typically cost around $50 per day and might seem like an exorbitant cost — until you’re stuck for a significant amount of time, that is.

That’s because they offer outlets, private wifi, showers, comfy seating, snacks and, most importantly, FREE DRINKS.

If you were planning to spend the next 12 hours posting up at the airport bar, a day pass to a lounge could save you a lot of money.

Lounges also have a dedicated service desk whose representatives can help re-book flights — helping you avoid the sisyphean lines in the main area.  

9. Find a Quiet Place to Sleep

Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder
Heather Comparetto / The Penny Hoarder

If you don’t want to spend the night on the floor (gross), Sleeping in Airports might become your new best friend. (Still not getting paid.)

This website reveals all the best nooks and crannies to rest your head, plus lots of other information that might help you survive your delay unscathed.

When my best friend was stranded last year, I used the site to find a yoga room inside the airport — and she got a great night’s rest (for free!).

Getting stuck in the airport is one of life’s great annoyances. But when your patience is running thin, remember that’s all it is: an annoyance.

It’s an extraordinary privilege to travel — especially in a giant metal box in the sky.

Your Turn: Have you ever been stuck at the airport? Any tips to share?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.

by Susan Shain
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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