Even if you’re a seasoned and frequent traveler, even if you know how this works and know you may be the last to board, you still embark on this trip as if you expect everything to go smoothly. You pick a route with the least number of available stops, you get to the airport early, don't check any bags and you wear a smile and pleasant attitude because that gate agents job is hard enough. (In the interest of full disclosure, I belong to enough forums to know how not to treat a gate agent in the face of disappointment). In essence you've done everything in your power to ensure a seamless travel experience and still, the stars don't align and you can't get on a flight to your destination or anywhere within 400 miles of it.
That said, the next day I made it to Tulsa (nice people there) and finally made it to STL by 2 am the next morning thanks to a husband who was tired of my whining and drove to get me. Here's what I learned, or relearned, or remembered.
Expect the unexpected.
Take an extra outfit, that one day out could turn into 2 or 3. Take medications for more than one day, and take aspirin, a day stuck in an airport with no hope of getting out can cause a headache, a really bad headache.
Bring something to do.
Bring a book, an electronic device, music, crossword puzzles. Anything that will take your mind off your suffering. But set the alarm on your phone so you don't miss going to another gate for another flight on the wild chance you might get on.
Bring backup power.
You need your phone, computer, kindle. In the face of all this uncertainty you need to stay in touch. When you don't need to charge your phone you can't believe all the charging outlets in the airport. When you need one, it's a whole different matter. Get the backup charger and keep it charged. Losing power can be that fine line between being able to cope and losing it.
Eat, Drink, Be Merry
I save peanuts and pretzels because you never know. If I had a nickel for every time I sat in the airport and didn't get something to eat because I wasn't hungry at the time or wanted to wait till I got home only to get bumped and waiting in an airport after the good places were closed, I'd be rich. What I fail to remember is that being hungry affects my mood and my ability to deal with this craziness. I know jumping from gate to gate is not conducive to healthy dining but when you get the time, take it and get something to eat and drink.
Hotwire is your friend.
When the door to the last flight to your destination closes. it is time to call it a day. Call a friend or a hotel with an airport shuttle and get some sleep, in a bed, so you can try this again tomorrow. And don't be drawn into that line of thinking that tells you, you should have just bought a real ticket in the first place.
Don't arrange a pick up time in advance.
Your last words to your driver/husband/friend should be, I'll call you just before we take off. Only then can you be somewhat certain about the time you'll be arriving. And this is only on the final flight to your destination. It doesn't matter that you made it from SLC to DEN on time. If you can't get out of Denver, you can't meet him in STL. Funny how they learn to carry their phone with them at all times when you're gone.
Offer Comfort When Possible
A fellow traveler on a buddy pass was waiting for all the same flights as I was. After being denied boarding about 5 times, he was looking pretty disappointed. I'm sure whoever gave him the buddy pass explained the nature of standby travel but that's different from living it on a Sunday when every flight is full. I just kept saying, a free ticket is a free ticket and your friend meant well!
Flying standby has changed over the years and when it works, it's a beautiful thing. When it doesn't, be flexible and remember when you flew first class roundtrip to Paris.