Are you are a seasoned traveler?
Have you ever experienced being stuck at an airport? If not, then consider yourself lucky.
Chances are, you must have, at some point, due to factors that are out of your hands. Nature often plays a massive part with one of the prime examples being the volcanic eruption of the hard to pronounce volcano in Iceland.
Then, airlines trying to cut costs and going bankrupt left-right-and-centre is another reason you might find yourself enjoying the cold floor of an airport.
Let’s also not forget political unrest in countries leading to the closure of airports at the very last minute.
In most cases, like flight delays or cancellations, airlines provide hotel accommodations. In all honesty, I quite enjoy these as they have landed me in a lovely five-star hotel with excellent amenities and free food.
But, every now and then something happens that makes you realize how vulnerable and unexpected things can get in life.
After a 14-day cruise in the warm Caribbean islands, my family and I ended up at London’s Gatwick Airport in the middle of a cold wave that hadn’t been seen by Britain for the longest of times.
December/January 2010 was a time that pushed UK Airports to the limit with snowfall resulting in mass closures and cancelled/delayed flights. By the time we had crossed immigration, the snow was falling like crazy, and announcements for flight delays had just started.
Since we were out of the plane and in the airport, the airline had absolutely no responsibility left, so imagine our horror when we found out that the shuttle service had been suspended. Moreover, taxis were refusing to venture out in the cold.
Traveling as a family, all we had was each other. Our multiple bags of luggage made taking a train, with numerous connections to Birmingham, impossible and unreliable.
As we made frantic calls to friends in the vicinity, to the National Express, and to nearby Taxi stands, we knew in the back of our minds that we must get ready to spend the night at the airport.
While things eventually got better and after spending close to 18 hours at the airport we finally did make it back to our place in Birmingham, there were a few things I learnt that day. These little tips and tricks can be handy if you find yourself stuck at an airport anywhere in the world.
Here are 14 points to keep in mind if you ever get stuck at an Airport.
It’s essential to keep these specific telephone/contact numbers with you at all times;
Airline numbers are vital if you get stuck before an outbound flight. Although there are check-in counters, sometimes, depending on the time of the day or night, these counters might be closed.
So have as many numbers of the airline with you as possible at all times. Also, never shy away from demanding food and accommodation in case of flight delays.
Taxi/Bus phone number is equally important. If you are stuck, keep calling them again and again after some time to check. While most airports have information about taxi services, it’s best to note down a few more while you research your trip and try them in case you can’t get anything else.
Location is the key
Once it is evident that you are stuck at the airport, find a comfortable place and never leave it, even for a minute.
Since we were five adults traveling, we could save seats at all times, but with the time you will realize that location is everything and those cushioned recliners are like prime property of a metropolitan city.
Food and drinks are those other commodities that will eventually become scarce as time passes. Stock up on drinks and food. In our case, the local M&S and some other shops remained open well past their closing time, but with each hour their stocks were diminishing. It is not a bad idea to keep a little on the side for later on, especially if you are traveling with a small child, as we were.
With the cold wave at its peak, the airport authorities were kind enough to distribute blankets to the passengers. After standing in long queues, we managed a couple. Don’t be shy to use the “I’ve got a small kid” card.
While we only took two blankets for 5 adults and 1 child. I saw others bring 2-3 blankets each which they used to spread on carpeted floors before sitting on them. So once again, it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves and being shy or too generous will only leave you feeling cold.
Thieves rely mostly on moments like this to strike. These are instances when people are tired, sleepy, not thinking straight, and have their luggage everywhere around them. Once again, with 5 adults in our group, some of us were always on the lookout.
We did, however, see a few shady characters roaming around the scattered luggage time and again, and at one instance had to wake up a sleeping couple and warn them. If it is hard for you to manage, get a locker, or at least have your luggage with you in such a fashion that it is not easy for a thief to steal it.
Moreover, it is for moments like this that investing in a good weekender bag can be beneficial. Take one that not only looks good and has enough space to fit in all the essentials, but also comes with security features.
It is quite evident that in such a situation, hotels will get filled up first. So, if you are aware of delays in advance, leave everything and run to a nearby hotel and worry about everything else later.
A lot of the rooms at hotels near the airport are on standby for airlines, so you really have to be lucky to find a place, but it is always worth a try.
A change will do you good
Keep change and cash handy because eventually ATM machines are going to dry up and while most places accept credit cards, you still might need some change for the bathroom or food dispensers, or to make a call in case your phone battery dies.
I have always made it a practice to keep my phone charger in my hand luggage. Although we had our entire luggage with us, in case you do not, the last thing you want is having a phone that is of no use.
Make sure you listen to all the announcements for new information and updates. But, you do not have to take everything seriously. As time went by, announcements requesting passengers to leave the airport were being made. We didn’t think that any country would kick out passengers into the cold, least of all the UK.
No one really came and asked us to move, but the announcements stating that passengers must find an alternate mode of transport and leave were repeated at regular intervals.
Stay in Touch
Stay in touch with the airport authorities at all times as they can be of great help. Although, when the air-conditioning was switched on (Yes! air-conditioning in the middle of heavy snowfall) they were unable to do anything as the mechanics had already left. It might have been a trick to get people out, but didn’t seem to work on anyone.
So, we just covered ourselves up and did not leave the excellent seats we had even though we were getting a cold draft of air. That’s how important a comfortable location is in case you were wondering.
Talk to people around you. Someone might have a person coming to pick them up and going in your destination. Someone might know of a hotel nearby. Information is out there, and you can only get it if you talk to people.
Keep calm, keep on mingling, keep walking around the airport (if you can while someone holds on to your space), and just keep your eyes and ears open at all times for new ideas or information.
Ever wanted some of that “me time”? Well, that’s what being stuck at an airport gives you; all the time in the world to do what you want. Take out your iPad and play a game of Angry Birds, switch on your Kindle and start that book you bought but never read, or maybe browse through the airport bookshop for something new. Everyone around you is too tired to really bother you for anything, so enjoy this unexpected free time.
Social media in the present day is a potent tool. Get on Twitter or Facebook and let the world know what’s happening. You might unknowingly help someone who was about to leave for the airport and didn’t after reading your tweet.
If nothing else, it’s a great time to catch up with friends old and new and write those pending personal email. In fact, forget emails, head to the nearest souvenir shop and pick up some postcards that will surely brighten up your friend’s day.
The Good Stuff
Yes, every cloud does have a silver lining. So, you are stuck at an airport. Look around you, for you can never find so many people from different parts of the world together at one place with nothing to do.
Use this time to learn about different people and their cultures. Share experiences, similar or otherwise, or bitch about the world if you must, but make the most of the time you have.
Being stranded at an airport is an experience that not many have. After all, every such experience does make for an excellent dinner story afterwards… or a blog post like this one.