A few weeks ago, when I wrote about making the best of the current rocky summer travel season, my intention was just to share the advice of a travel professional, not to become exhibit A.
But thunder and rain are rudely unbothered by those intentions. I was not at home for the tremendous storms that besieged Baltimore last week, but I got caught in them just the same, because I was stranded in New England and could not get home. Still, the tips and knowledge I shared previously proved to be handy. And when you’re watching all the red DELAYED messages popping up on the airport signs, you need all the help you can get.
Prescient Travel Tip #1: Take the first flight of the day
Delayed flights are so common now that local travel planner Liz Brown said you should make reservations with them in mind, booking the earliest flight you can so you have all day for rerouting and rescheduling if necessary. That proved true before my son and I ever left BWI, where we’d arrived two hours early for our 6:30 a.m. flight to Boston, only to find that it was now leaving at 10:30 a.m. This meant we would miss our connection on a tiny Cessna to Bar Harbor, and then our scheduled taxi ride to picturesque Castine, Maine, for a week with friends. We were first in line to be put on another flight, before the counter even opened, and made the rest of our connections without a hitch. It would have gotten much, much harder if we hadn’t been so early.
Prescient Travel Tip #2: Book longer layovers
It seems counterintuitive to purposely plan four hours in an airport with a bored 8-year-old, but that buffer meant that even with our delayed flight, we had time to eat, get to our new gate in a different terminal and then park ourselves nearby in case something went wrong. Time turned out to be the most important gift on our trip back to Baltimore on Friday, when the flight from Boston Logan to BWI was delayed from 9 p.m. until almost midnight because of those massive storms. (See! We should have taken the morning flight.) We sat on hold on the phone with airline customer service while waiting in a long line to see if there was any way to rebook, amid panicked fellow travelers who were missing everything from best man duties to backstage meet-and-greet passes to see the band Train.
When the gate agent suggested on the loudspeaker that parents reconsider putting their solo-flying tweens and teens on the plane lest it be diverted to another city in the storm, I knew this wasn’t going to work. Getting stranded in a random place with a kid at 1 a.m. sounds like the plot of a Jordan Peele movie, not a fun vacation. Which led me to ...
Prescient Travel Tip #3: Be flexible and patient
I recognize my privilege to have the time and money to be on vacation in the first place, and the blessing that this privilege gave me in being able to pivot. Instead of rolling the dice and getting on that possibly diverted flight, I asked the agent when the next plane was flying from Boston to Baltimore. It wasn’t till 10 p.m. the next night, meaning that even if we got a last-minute hotel Friday night, we’d have to check out the next morning and be stuck dragging our luggage around Beantown all day. So I MacGyvered a solution — we instead booked the first flight available out of nearby Providence, Rhode Island, for Sunday morning, and made an extended New England excursion out of it. (This was made easier because I had followed a suggestion to nix the checked luggage so we could just grab our carry-ons and go.) We stayed in Boston and hung out at a cool children’s park and ate clam chowder for breakfast at the historic Quincy Market, then caught a cheap Amtrak train to Providence, where we ran into an open-air art festival spinning 90s hip-hop and had dinner with friends. We knew it was likely that our plans were going to change, so we were more able to go with the flow. We also only survived because we closely followed ...
Prescient Travel Tip #4: Be nice
Although travel planner Brown told me that it should be a no-brainer to be civil, we all know that’s not a given. But I decided, even at the height of travel uncertainty, to not take that out on other people — particularly those I was asking for help. So I heartily thanked every gate agent I asked to reroute us. I thanked the harried hostess at the only Boston airport restaurant still seating in our terminal, where the wait was almost an hour, for her kindness and patience amid the dirty looks she was getting from hungry travelers, and her shoulders literally unclenched. I made conversation and asked for local recommendations from every Lyft driver and hotel clerk we encountered. We wound up getting all the connections and tables we asked for, but that’s not the point.
Choosing to travel in a pandemic during unpredictable weather and inflation is already uncertain. It’s going to be so much easier to navigate the madness if we try to get along with the people sharing our adventure.