When you have yet another delay or cancellation in air travel, what do you do? Do you get upset? Scream at the gate agent? Look for something to punch? Cry? Swear? Storm around the gate area muttering and scowling?
Or do you just smile or laugh? Decide to go get something to eat or drink? Perhaps with a bemused smile on your face?
I saw pretty much all that behavior on display this past week while I wound up stranded at Dulles airport near DC trying to get home from the SIPNOC event where I had spoken. Three planes and most of 24 hours later I did finally get home, rather tired but just glad to be home.
Several folks asked if I was stressed out or upset with it all... and the truth is that:
I fly way too much to get stressed.
The corollary to that is that I've sadly become way too jaded and cynical about air travel to the point that:
I basically expect there to be delays, cancellations and other problems.
So I just go into any trip assuming things will go wrong. And perhaps that is a sad comment on the state of our air travel system, but I know from talking with many other frequent travelers it is a common view held by many.
To that end, I:
- NEVER check luggage - I always travel with a carry-on so that I can very easily redirect to another flight or go to a hotel for the night;
- Always carry the 800-number for the airline I'm traveling so that the moment there is a cancellation I can jump on the phone to get rebooked (which is why I got out on an afternoon flight yesterday while my fellow travelers who went and stood in the enormous "Customer Service" line weren't getting out until late in the evening or the next day);
- Sign up for services like FlightStats.com so that I get alerts and notifications the minute there are any changes to my flights;
- Always have my computer, mobile phone, mobile broadband (ex. MIFI), and anything else I need to be able to go online to find other routes or locate nearby hotels; and
- Be ready to choose alternate modes of transport. I've switched to taking a train when a flight was delayed, have taken a taxi to another airport and have even rented a car and driven home when a flight was cancelled.
Plus, of course, pack an extra change of clothes. Then, when things go wrong, I'm ready to react.
Here's the reality of the air travel system:
Once you enter the system, you surrender yourself to the system and have to assume you'll eventually get to your destination.
By that I mean that once you enter the system for a flight to somewhere...
... there's not much YOU can do to influence the outcome!
You can't fly a plane. You can't control the weather. You can't control that delays cause one of your pilots to be late to get to your plane. You can't control the mechanical errors that happen.
If you get delayed, there's typically not much at all you can do.
So there's usually absolutely zero value in getting upset at the gate agent or other staff. Sure, some of them could be better with communication... some might not be helpful... some might be unfriendly. Sure, all of that happens. But how is screaming at them really going to help you? Very often they don't have much they can do.
And sure, you can rant about that particular airline, but in my experience having flown pretty much all the major airlines in North America:
All airlines suck. And all airlines have moments of greatness.
Best thing I've found is to be ready to react (with my list above) when you can make a change... and when you can't (like yesterday when thunderstorms, lightning and tornado warnings closing the airport) ... just kick back, go grab a bite to eat, buy a book or magazine, grab a beer or other beverage... and...
...laugh at the insanity of it all.