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Surviving Unexpected Flight Delays: Do's and Don'ts

mountains out an airplane window

Scenario: you’re arriving at the airport for a long-expected trip. You roll up to the airport with plenty of time to spare before your flight. You breeze through security and begin the process of tracking down your gate. But before you get comfortable, it happens. 

A message pops up on your phone. Your flight is delayed. Suddenly you’re at the airport far too early. Not sensibly or comfortably early. Obscenely early. 

Scenario: you've landed at your layover airport, ready to run from one gate to the next to continue your journey. But the moment your phone regains connection with your cell service, it happens.

You get a notification saying your next flight is delayed. Your quick little layover just turned into a three-hour layover.

Scenario: your flight out of Chicago is delayed by an hour because of some epic January fog. Your scheduled layover is also almost exactly an hour. You land in Miami, and miss your connecting flight by less than 15 minutes. The earliest flight they can rebook you on is four hours later.

Yes, that one actually happened to me.

What are you supposed to do now that you’re already at the airport but your plane isn’t ready yet?? How are you supposed to kill this unexpected time? Here’s some simple dos and don’ts of unexpected delays.

a coast and bridges out an airplane window

DO - Check in with Your Gate Attendants

As soon as you know you’re facing a delay, check in with your gate and/or your gate attendants. This is helpful no matter your situation, (you can usually find out the cause of the delay and get a timing estimate from a person instead of an app), but it’s absolutely essential if you’ve got a connecting flight. 

If you have a connection to make, check in with your gate agents on schedules and the likelihood of rebooking. Sometimes, if there are a LOT of people making the same connection, the connecting flight will be held until yours arrives. Other times, you’ll be rebooked on a later flight out from your connecting airport. The gate agents will be able to help you with this. Even if they’re not the ones actively rebooking you, they’ll know who you need to talk to.

And, especially if you might be missing a connection, don’t be afraid to ask about seat upgrades to make up for the delay. The worst they can do is say no!

DON'T - Just Sit at Your Gate the Whole Time

Waiting out your whole delay at your gate is a surefire way to burn out your patience. Help keep your brain happy by giving it a change of scenery.

I’d try not to go too terribly far from your gate though. You want to be nearby in case something changes and your flight moves back closer to its original schedule. But find yourself somewhere more comfy to wait. I like to find a bar or restaurant space near my gate, where I can get a nicer seat and a snack.

DO - Lock Down an Outlet

Adding extra wait time to your transit day is a surefire way to drain your devices. If you plan to spend your delay entertaining yourself on your phone, tablet, or laptop, find an outlet and plug in. There’s absolutely nothing worse than draining your devices, then boarding your plane and realizing there’s no in-seat power outlets. (Lookin' at you United.) Use the airport outlets while you got 'em.

a laptop on a table with coffee and a bagel

DO - Use the Internet

Similarly to the note on outlets, make use of the internet while you’ve got it!

Unless you’re the type of person who always buys in-flight wifi, a great way to entertain yourself on a delay is with the things you won’t have access to once you’re in the air. Use the airport wifi or your phone’s data plan to entertain yourself for a while. Save the books, offline work, downloaded music or podcasts, or movies that you could watch on the in-flight entertainment system for the actual flight. Flight delays are prime goofing around on the internet time.

DON'T - Get so Distracted that you Miss Announcements

But whatever you do on your plugged in devices while roaming the interwebs, don’t get so lost in it that you stop paying attention to the announcements and messages. Don’t be that person that gripes about their delay, then nearly misses their flight because they didn’t catch the subsequent schedule change.

a redhead drinking a passionfruit mojito

DO - Get Yourself a Little Treat

You deserve it! You did all the right things and got to the airport at just the right time and now you’re stuck here waiting. Whatever it is (milkshake, smorgasbord of convenience store snacks, passion fruit mojito…) you earned it. Treat yo self.

DON'T - Overindulge

I get it, you’re grumpy and want to soothe yourself with food. And maybe you’re the kind of person who can do that and have no real repercussions. But for me, getting onto an airplane with an overfull stomach, or after one drink too many, is a surefire recipe for motion sickness the moment we hit any turbulence. You know yourself and your body, so keep your comfort in mind when you go treat yourself. Don’t make your delay fun at the expense of making your flight uncomfortable.

a redhead making a funny face in an airplane seat

DO - Keep a Sense of Humor About your Flight Delay

Airports are lawless and ridiculous. Once your flight is delayed, it’s 99% out of your control. I don’t know about you, but for me, things that are 99% out of my control are my least favorite kind of thing. But no level of frustration will change it, so do what you can to laugh at the foibles and make things fun. Air travel is a two-sided coin, both convenient and terribly inconvenient at times. The more you can laugh at it, the happier you’ll be.

Good luck out there!

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Love and Shenanigans,


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