Stranded by Sandy? Here’s What to Do and What Not to Do
Around the country, thousands of travelers are finding out that their travel plans to either get to a meeting or return home are being upended after Hurricane Sandy caused U.S. airlines to cancel close to 8,000 flights through Tuesday. Most travelers will first be able to board an aircraft on Wednesday, that is if they are lucky.
The storm didn’t come without much warning and airlines have been offering customers the opportunity to delay and rebook flights without penalty.
I’ve been stranded several times in the past decade, including on 9/11 in 2001 and during a December blizzard in 2009. In 2009, I stayed put, sleeping in an airport lounge, but I eventually got on a flight to London because I was at the airport and someone else apparently wasn’t. In 2001, I stayed put at my hotel in San Francisco and the hotelier was happy to have me and other stranded guests because no one was flying in to take our place, either.
First and foremost, if you are reading this from home, stay put. You’ll thank me later. The storm has yet to reach full strength but most flights have been already cancelled. Even if your flight does take off, if you are connecting in order to get to your destination, that flight may end up being cancelled, or there may be difficulties in traveling the last mile to get to your final destination.
If you are reading this from the comfort of a hotel room, sit back, relax, and have a drink. The odds of getting home or to your next destination are no better. And since chances are that no one is coming to the hotel to check in, the hotel’s front desk will be happy to extend your stay.
When it comes to rebooking, even the airlines’ priority lines for their top-tier customers will have long waits. A non-status customer doesn’t really stand a chance so your best bet is to use the airline’s website. (Using the website should also be your first move in the event of delays or cancellations that aren’t caused by hurricanes, while all of the other passengers are queuing up at the ticket counter at the airport.)
Getting on a flight, even to get home, may be a challenge. It will take the airlines a day or two to reposition aircraft and crews. and passengers who are booked on flights later in the week have priority over those who have experienced a delay due to weather. Look for creative routings to get home and don’t be afraid to ask questions (if you are able to get through to a live person).
While I would love to be able to say I was so prescient as to know that I should not travel this week, the fact is that this is the first week in over six weeks that I don’t have to get on a plane, having flown 30,500 miles during that period, so I merely lucked out.