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Airport Frequent Flyer

Your Ultimate Stuck-at-the-Airport Toolkit

Everything you need to survive an unexpected (and extended) stay at the airport.

You’re stuck. Maybe it’s a long layover, maybe it’s a flight cancellation, or a blizzard.

However it happened, you’re stranded—for a few hours or longer—along with thousands of other people. Resources are limited, and you’ve got to act fast. Here’s what to do.

Know Your Rights

In the U.S., no federal law or regulation specifies what, if any, rights you have in the case of a flight cancellation by your airline. Instead, each airline has its own policy regarding delays, cancellations, and compensation. Which is why at SmarterTravel, we’ve created a handy flight-cancellation rights guide that you can download below.

Free Download: Ultimate Guide to Flight-Cancellation Rights

Plan Your Escape

Contact the Airline: For the best chance of success, you’ll want to multi-task. Stand in line at the airport while simultaneously calling your airline’s customer service line (program the number into your phone before leaving on your trip). And if you’re having trouble speaking to someone in person or over the phone, try the social media route. Many airlines use Twitter to address customer service issues.

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Get a Room: If you and thousands of other people suddenly find yourself stranded, you’ll need to book a room quickly unless you want to wait out an overnight delay in an airport chair. There are a number of last-minute booking apps, but when we travel, most of us use Hotel Tonight. Its discounted last-minute rates are great, and its app is user-friendly.

Find a Day Trip: If you’re stuck at an airport during the day, but can fly out before an overnight hotel stay becomes necessary, consider a day trip. A number of airports offer a list of day-trip itineraries for people with long layovers, trips that are easy to get to from the airport via public transportation. For instance, one of Japan’s most popular temples is a short train ride from Tokyo Narita Airport. And from Frankfurt Airport, beer tasting in Bavaria is a quick trip. Many airports have bag checks (though some still haven’t reinstituted them since 9/11), which allows you to stash your suitcase and travel light on a day out.

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Make the Most of Being Stuck at the Airport

Hunker Down: Airports are notoriously uncomfortable places to grab some shut-eye, but when you’ve been awake for 20 or more hours, even a vinyl chair can look like a bed. I’ve had success using the Guide to Sleeping at Airports to help me find the least uncomfortable options when I need to overnight at an airport.

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Know Your Airport Amenities: As airlines cut down on basic amenities, many airports are increasing theirs, offering stranded passengers nearly pleasant ways to pass the time. Airports offer everything from yoga rooms to exercise bikes, and from napping pods to showers and spas.

Find a Fun Activity: Giant slides, butterfly gardens, movie theaters, behind-the-scenes tours—airports around the world offer unexpected, and totally fun, ways to pass the time. Download your airport’s app or check its website to see if it has any quirky offerings.

Comfy Clothes to Wear When You’re Stuck at the Airport:

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.

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