You’re going to be stranded. What should you do?

Most business travelers have been there: You’re flying back home on the last flight of the night, you’re making a connection, and your first flight is delayed. You realize that you’re going to miss your connection. Since you’re on the last flight of the night, that means you’re bound to be stranded. What do you do? Should you rebook your flight for tomorrow morning and get stranded in the city you’re currently in, or take your flight and get stranded elsewhere?

The answers to a few questions will largely determine what you should do:

  • Is getting to your destination the most important thing?
  • Did you check a bag?
  • Do you need your clothes?
  • Are you in your home city?

If getting to your destination is the most important thing, take your flight and get stranded in an airline hub city.

The idea here is simple: If you are at a hub city for your airline, you’ll have the greatest number of possible options to get to your destination in the morning. The downside, of course, is that you’re probably going to be without your luggage. Once you get to the hub city, one of three things can happen:

1. Your connecting flight could be delayed.

You could be in luck. If your connecting flight is also delayed, you might be able to get to your destination on the same day. I’ve found that this is the most likely to happen if your flight is delayed because of weather at a hub city. You might get to your destination.

2. You “cleanly” miss your connecting flight

What I mean by this is that your connecting flight takes off before you land. In this case, your luggage is going to be stuck in the same airport as you and you might be able to get your checked luggage by going to the baggage office and requesting that they pull your luggage. If there are a large number of delays and cancellations in your city, be prepared to wait A LONG TIME for your luggage to come up.

3. You miss your flight… barely.

This is probably the worst case, because your luggage may or may not have made it to your connecting flight. If you need your luggage, proceed to the luggage desk and pray to the airline gods. If your luggage didn’t make your flight, the luggage desk should be able to retrieve it. The same disclaimers above apply.

If having your checked luggage is your first priority…

…you probably shouldn’t have checked it. Personally, I prefer to check luggage, but I try to always have one pair of clothes and essential toiletries in my carry-on luggage on my outbound trip. If you rebook for the next morning and must have access to your checked luggage, ask the gate agent if the luggage can be pulled from the flight. Especially at smaller stations, the gate agents are willing to help here. They can’t bring your checked luggage to you behind security, but they can often make sure that the ramp workers pull it off the plane. If the gate agents aren’t willing to help, call your airline’s baggage telephone number and ask them to flag your baggage. While you’re on the phone, proceed immediately to the local baggage office and try to get them to pull the bag. Good luck!

There’s no place like home.

Finally, remember that there is no place like home. If you’re in your home city, sometimes the best option is just to give up and try again tomorrow. You’ll sleep in your own bed, you’ll have access to toiletries, and you’ll fly in a fresh set of clothes…tomorrow.

This post brought to you by the fact that I am almost certainly going to be stranded in Dallas tonight.

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