For as long as there have been flights, there have been flight delays. Literally. On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers soared into the history books with the first successful powered flight, but only after being grounded for three days by bad weather and equipment malfunctions.
While air travel has come a long way since then, flight delays remain stubbornly persistent. Over the past decade, roughly one in four flights has been delayed, canceled, or rerouted. If you fly often, eventually you will be faced with a travel disruption. Acknowledging this fact can result in utter despair or stoic acceptance.
Unless you're an air traffic controller, a crack airplane mechanic, or a wizard capable of manipulating the weather, there's nothing you can do to get your flight moving. However, there are steps you can take to avoid flight delays in the first place, arrange alternate travel arrangements, and generally preserve your sanity when something goes wrong. Here are five ways experienced travelers take some of the sting out of travel disruptions.
1. They avoid the worst flights
The Transportation Department keeps amazingly comprehensive records of pretty much everything that could go wrong when flying, from delays and lost baggage, to overbooking and on-board "incidents." The reports on airline quality performanceand chronically delayed flights are equal parts morbid and useful.
Another resource is FiveThiryEight's interactive feature that shows which flight will get you to your destination fastest. It's the closest you can come to having a cheat sheet for identifying the specific airports, airlines, and routes least likely to cause you problems.
2. They take the earliest flight
Every travel disruption has a ripple effect. Small problems compound as flights are held for connecting passengers and runways get backed up.
The chance of delay increases as the day progress according to data from AirHelp, a service that helps you get money back if your flight has been delayed or canceled. Earliest flights are most punctual, while flights leaving between 6:00 and 7:00 PM are most likely to be delayed.
There's another reason to book the first flight of the day: it's the cheapest. Rocketrip incentivizes employees to spend less on their trips, and our most recent analysis found that business travelers who took the red eye saved an average of 16% per flight.
3. They set up text message alerts
At the time of booking, opt-in to receive flight status updates from your airline, and on the day of your trip double check with FlightWise or another travel notification app.
Even if your flight's status is shown as on-time, visit the FAA's website to see overall delays at the airport. If lots of other flights are having issues, it could be a leading indication that yours will also be affected.
4. They know how to secure a spot on another flight
Once a cancelation is announced, the scramble to get on standby lists can reach levels of intensity normally associated with sinking ships and lifeboats.
To increase your chances of being one of the lucky few, scout flights going to your destination as soon as you arrive at the airport and add your name to the standby list at the first sign of a potential delay. Being first on the list won't guarantee you a spot - in truth nothing will - but you can help your own cause by flying without any luggage, if possible with an airline where you have some level of elite status.
5. They can make themselves at home almost anywhere
There comes a time when even the most indomitable travelers will have to give up the good fight and admit that they're not going anywhere. At moments like those, it's advisable to consult this list of the best airport bars.
Sleep is another method for forgetting your worries, one arguably healthier than alcohol. Your gate is likely to be crowded with other travelers whose plans have been interrupted, but you might be able to find a (relatively) comfortable place to rest in the arrivals lounge on the other side of airport security.
Once there, put on some headphones, close your eyes, and dream of a world without flight delays.