Stranded! An Airport Survival Guide
1. If you're lucky enough not to have checked your luggage yet, repack. Put everything—clothes, medicine, work—you need for the next three or four days in your carry-on, then kiss your luggage goodbye. It will eventually end up in your home town, but it may take up to a week to arrive. Alissa's bags took six days to reach Boston, while mine made it to D.C. in four.
2. If you are beyond security when you find out your flight's been scratched, line up immediately at ANY gate for re-ticketing. Do not get into the sure-to-be-long line at the counter for your canceled flight.
Any agent can help in a major shut-down. Walk the corridor, find the smallest number of people standing between you and a rebooked seat and get on that line. It doesn't matter if the board behind that counter reads "San Francisco" and your destination is Vermont.
Some agents will not too helpfully encourage you to go back to the ticket counter where you originally checked-in and dumped your bags. Forget about that. It's a huge waste of time that will only cause you major delays and land you in a packed hall of grumpy people toting luggage and cranky kids. Those lines at the initial check-in counters will be endless, the few restaurants nearby will be packed, and the chairs, if you can find any, will have people parked in them—maybe for days.
3. Use your smart phone or tablet while standing in line. First, try calling the airline—sometimes you can get the info you need and ditch the whole line hassle entirely. Then get a hotel room. You can always cancel later if you fly out that day. Book a property close to the airport, one that either has an on-site restaurant or one next door; if the weather's bad—torrential rains or terrible snowstorms—you don't want to end up walking blocks for a meal. And if the property provides free airport shuttles, even better. Rental cars will be non-existent and cabs will be scarce.
4. Call AMTRAK and car-rental agencies if you have to get to a destination that's within a day's train ride or drive within the next 24 hours. Phone while standing in line at the airport to rebook your plane ticket. It's useful to know all your options when you finally do talk to the airline agent. While trains often cancel in heavy snow, they can barrel through bad rain. Driving is probably your worst option, as you really don't want to be on the road when the weather's foul. And in any event, the few available rental cars will fly off the lots quickly.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication