Stuck at the Airport? Six Tips to Survive Winter Delays and Cancellations

Getting stuck at an airport because of winter weather flight delays and cancellations is never pleasant. But you can make it much less of a hassle by following these six tried and true tips suggested by the experts at Knack.

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Stuck at the Airport? Six Tips to Survive Winter Delays and Cancellations

In a previous blog, we’ve covered what to do before you leave your house if winter weather looks like it may mess with your flight. Now, let’s turn to the less fun topic: what to do if you get stranded at the airport during a winter weather delay. Roughly 1 in 4 delayed flights are caused by weather during the winter months according to the Bureau of Transportation Services (BTS), so if you’re flying when storms are brewing, expect delays and even cancellations. 

Given that winter weather flight delays and cancellations are just about inevitable, what should you do when they happen to you? Here’s our top 6 tips on how you can make flight cancellations and delays more bearable:

  • Maximize Your Chances of Being Helped by Customer Service
  • Know What the Airline Owes You
  • Find a Lounge
  • Get Comfortable
  • Be Kind 
  • Take a Carry-On Bag 


    Tip One: Maximize Your Chances of Being Helped by Customer Service

    Knack’s founder, Chad Mellen, has visited over 50 countries and flown millions of miles (and living in the Northeast, a lot of these trips took place during winter). So he shared these nuggets about how he deals with long delays or cancellations while at the airport.

    “When my flight is delayed, I immediately get in line at the gate and call the airline's customer service at the same time. If I get to the front of the line before I can get the person on the phone to help me, I hang up.

    If I am flying on an airline where I have no status, I call the international customer service line, as they usually do not have the same level of call volume during widespread weather delays as domestic customer service.

    If I’m really not getting love from anyone, I will DM the airline on FB or Twitter talking about what is going on.

    Finally, if my flight gets canceled or delayed to the next day, before I call the airline to rebook, I call to book a room at the airport hotel and get an Uber (if I have to book a hotel away from the airport). I’ve learned the hard way that hundreds of people are about to look for a hotel and transportation as soon as they work out their new flights with airline customer service so it’s easy to get stranded at the airport. Also, I find it's much easier dealing with airline customer service on the phone in my hotel room than in line at the airport.”



    Tip Two: Know What the Airline Owes You

    According to the TSA, don’t accept less than the full price of your ticket for reimbursement from the airline if your flight gets canceled. This is true even if the tickets are ‘nonrefundable'. If the delay or cancelation is caused by an act of God (like weather) you could be on your own for lodging. The Department of Transportation has this to say about canceled flights and hotels:

    “Airlines are not required to provide passengers with money or other compensation [including  a hotel room, cab fare, a food voucher, or reimbursement for any other non-airline ticket costs] for costs that fall outside of the canceled airline ticket and fees tied directly to the airline ticket (such as baggage fees, seat upgrades, etc.) when flights are canceled.”

    The airline might help, but it doesn’t have to, so don’t count on it; especially if a whole plane (or a whole airport) is trying to get hotel rooms. Here’s an exact breakdown of the different winter weather flight circumstances and the legal requirements for airlines when there are delays or cancellations.



    Tip Three: Find A Lounge 

    Airport lounges are often forgotten during the hectic rescheduling and plane shuffling that occurs during a winter weather flight delay. Although usually the domain of frequent fliers and Business/First Class travelers, lounges can be a lifesaver for the rest of us too. 

    First realize that there are two types of airport lounges: those associated with airlines (like American Airlines’ Admirals Club) and truly independent lounges like Plaza Premium Lounges. To make matters a bit more confusing, there are also networks of airport lounges, like Priority Pass, that provide access to both airline and independent lounges.

    Regardless of the type of lounge, they all typically offer day passes, starting around $20 and up, that allow you to access all the VIP perks associated with the lounge. Not only do lounges provide some solitude away from the craziness of the gates, but they usually offer free food, drinks, entertainment and places to work.



    airline flights and delays

    Tip Four: Get Comfortable

    If you’re at the airport for the long haul and the lounge isn’t an option, you probably want to stake out a comfy place and relax. Before you close your eyes for some well-deserved Z’s, take note of your surroundings. While quiet and solitude might be tempting, avoid places that are isolated and out of the way (gates are actually the safest place in an airport). Make sure that your bags are locked and keep your wallet and passport with you in an interior pocket.

    Best Travel Backpack

    Once you find a safe place, it’s time to get comfortable. If you brought them in your carry-on, change into comfortable clothes and brush your teeth. Use your jacket on top of your carry-on as a pillow or, if that doesn’t work, splurge for a travel pillow or blanket from an airport store. Finally, don’t forget to set an alarm on your phone!

    As an added tip, we recommend you practice mindfulness and breathing to help you relax - if you need help, find a relevant podcast, a YouTube channel, or an app and have a listen.



    Tip Five: Be Kind

    When the snow hits the fan and delays start mounting, it isn’t just bad for you, the day also got a lot harder for hundreds of airport employees, from janitors to flight attendants. 

    By taking a deep breath and extending some kindness to these folks (even though you’re having a bad day too), you can reverse the unhelpful downward spiral of frustration and anger most people feel when there are travel delays. A simple act of kindness could be what turns a distressing delay into a fun, if unexpected, day at the airport. And you never know: you may actually meet someone new in the process!



    carry on in winter travel

    Tip Six: Take A Carry-On Bag 

    Since winter flight delays are so common, our number six tip probably should be our number one tip: never check a bag. But even if you have to check a bag, always take a carry-on with a change of clothes and some toiletries if the weather starts to look iffy.

    Backpacks (those under 45 liters) make a great carry-on as most airlines count them as a personal item so they almost always get onboard regardless of type of airplane. And the right backpack can carry your work items, your tech, things to keep you entertained, clothing, and toiletries. A backpack that can carry everything you need, and keep it safe, provides peace of mind, which can be a rare thing when you’re dealing with a winter weather travel delay. 

    >>MORE: How to Organize a Backpack for Travel


    Best Travel Backpack

    The best carry-on backpack? In our mind, there’s no question: it’s one of our Knack Packs. Their sleek, professional styling, with no dangling straps and a unique internal water bottle pocket, lets you seamlessly transition from a day at the airport to a day at the office all with the same bag. And with an organized compartment for your everyday items that is separate from its patent-pending, hidden, expandable suitcase compartment, a Knack backpack lets you avoid the dreaded “underwear next to the laptop” syndrome.

    "Knack is perfect as a carry-on for a couple of changes of clothes, a computer, tablet, charger and documents." - J. Murray, U.S.

    If your carry-on is a Knack Pack, don’t worry that you won’t be able to bring everything you need. Depending on the size of Knack you select (check out here to see the best size backpack for travel), there’s room for up to 5 changes of clothes, toiletries, a laptop, your tablet, chargers and cable, your favorite water bottle, and much more. The best part is that when you get to your destination, you simply unpack the suitcase compartment, zip it away and use your Knack as your everyday bag.

    >>MORE: Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Flight Delays & Cancellations

    If you’ve survived a long winter-weather trip thanks to your Knack Pack, we want to hear your story! Even if it is as simple as “the flight went fine, my bag worked great,” we’re eager for the feedback. You can connect with us at Don’t forget to tag @knackbags and use #knackbags on social media!

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