I rose from my seat at the gate as my row was called. Long line, tired travelers, airline personnel scanning the tickets through a machine … it was all so routine. I’d been at the Atlanta airport for five hours and was ready to go home.
Beep, “Enjoy your flight,” beep, “Have a nice flight” … “Bonk.” My ticket running through the machine made a dissonant, abnormal sound, like there should be a red x above my head instead of a green check mark like the other passengers.
The puzzled attendant looked down at my ticket, “Honey, you’re not flying with us, you’re flying United!” Suddenly the world was in slow motion and I looked up at the signs on the wall I’d been staring at but not seeing for the last few hours: “Norfolk” — my destination … “D-E-L-T-A” — not my airline.
Embarrassed, mad at myself, I kept wondering as I made a bee-line to the United Airlines terminal, “How could this happen to me? I’m a world traveler! Airports are my second home!” But I was too late. My flight had finished boarding a few minutes before and the door was shut. Shocked, stunned, horrified, I pondered what to do next.
Sometimes circumstances throw you for a loop. This was definitely not one of my proudest moments. But learning to make the most of the resources available to stranded passengers can help you cope, even when circumstances are a little less than ideal. Here are some tips:
- Don’t panic. Realize this happens all the time, even to seasoned travelers (ahem!).
- Find the nearest customer service desk for your airline. Calmly and briefly explain to them what has happened. Already have in mind what you would like them to offer you: rescheduled flight (preferably at no cost), hotel discount for the night, free shuttle to the hotel and back to the airport, meal voucher, free long-distance phone call (even overseas).
- Don’t dwell on what might have been. Whatever the circumstances, you missed your flight. You may have missed a day of settling in or sightseeing, or maybe even an important meeting. Resolve not to lose too much sleep over it, and to make the most of your experiences once you hit the ground.
- If possible, get a good night’s rest. Chances are you missed a bit of sleep in the stress of packing and preparing for your journey. Don’t waste time on Facebook telling everyone about your woes. Use your down time in the airport or in a hotel to get some sleep. If given the option of paying a discounted price for a nice hotel or staying at the airport – time permitting – choose the nice hotel. Once you reach your destination, you’ll be glad you did.
No one is immune to making dumb mistakes. In my case, having flown hundreds of times nationally and internationally, I was overconfident and neglected to check “details” like was the flight number on my ticket the same as the one at the gate. But the incident taught me to check, double check, and triple check all my flight information so that it never happens again!
See Stranded in Style for creative ways that passengers have used their unexpected additional airport time.