Looking back at my airport odyssey (see “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Portland,” Part 1 and Part 2) reminds me not to take ease of traveling for granted. So many times I get on a plane and get off again at my destination without any problems at all.

As pointed out to me by many readers, I’ve been lucky. To date, the extent of my airline catastrophes have been having my luggage delayed by a day (twice) and missing my flight (once before this trip)—and the first time I was able to get on the next flight just two hours later.

So when we’re fortunate, we should thank the travel gods or St. Christopher (patron saint of travelers). Really, what’s the point of grumbling about lack of leg room or the absence of meals on flights? (Remember how we used to complain about airplane food? Now we don’t have icky food to worry about.)

When travel does not go smoothly, however, here are a few things I discovered that might help you suffer less and have a better overall attitude:

1. Expect the best; be prepared for the worst. Pack and plan accordingly.

  • Give yourself at least two hours lead time at airports during busy travel times.
  • Take a brown-bag lunch in case you don’t have time to stop for food before catching your flight. (Or in case you can’t find any healthy food in the airport.)
  • Never put valuables or prescription medicines in your checked luggage—you may never see that suitcase again.
  • Pack a change of clothes and essentials in your carry-on—just in case your suitcase doesn’t follow you to your destination.
  • Bring a good book to take your mind off delays.

2. Resist falling into victim mode. A passenger rarely has control over the situation when lines, security hang-ups, flight overbooking, flight cancellations, et cetera, et cetera, occur—so it’s easy to feel persecuted or victimized. Acceptance is a good practice, for your own sanity. Shed tears, mope, whatever—but then get over it and deal. Spreading your anger or grumpiness just puts everyone else in a bad mood.

3. Try to find creative solutions. Once I accepted that I was not going to get on my flights for the day…and the next…I distracted myself from the emotional anguish by trying to figure out what, if anything, I could do. Ken and I asked questions of many different people along the way. Most times we hit dead ends—we still couldn’t get to Oregon before Monday—but at least we can say we tried.

4. Practice compassion for others. People are more helpful and sympathetic than you think. If you don’t go ballistic or start yelling at airlines employees, they may extend help in whatever way they can. Many of them honestly want their customers to be happy and have a good experience. (Contented travelers make their jobs easier!) But remember, there’s a limit to their abilities to smooth your way. All the Southwest Airline employees I encountered were helpful beyond belief and tried to make the best of a bad situation. (I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be in their shoes, having to dole out bad news to us travel-weary passengers.)

5. Keep things in perspective. Even though a trip may be going down the tubes, it might help to remember that this is not brain surgery, and that no one will die because of scrubbed travel plans. (You did buy travel insurance…right?)

6. Humor can help. In the heat of the moment, I was not nearly so glib about our travel snafus as I seem in my posts. Ken was even less amused. I will admit, however, that the journalist in me saw ripe potential for a clever, funny piece about my ill-fated sojourns. My advice: If at all possible, try to find something about the situation to laugh at—or at least let yourself stay open to the possibility that you might one day look back on all this and laugh.

7. Stretch or walk around the concourse. Just moving your body can improve your attitude and ability to cope with the stress of cancelled flights or mechanical delays.

8. Say thank you! When an airport employee helps you, say thank you. When an airport employee can’t help you, say thank you. He or she made an effort.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for responding to travel trauma with calm.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Showing 5 comments
  • Gail Storey

    Laurel, I really like your outlook of realism combined with calm. While stuck on a a plane at Christmas (on the runway, before we could even take off), my heart went out to the mother and fussy toddler next to me. I happened to take off my hiking boots and the little girl–just learning to walk–stuck her tiny feet into them to toddle happily up and down the aisle for two of the three hours we sat there!

  • Laurel Kallenbach

    What a great story! And it reminds me that while standing in one of the many lines at the airport, I was in front of a woman with a toddler who was getting fussy. I could feel myself tensing up and thinking, “I just can’t take another annoyance!” The mom was trying to amuse her child, but he was becoming more squirmy and vocal.
    After a moment of brooding, I decided that the best way to keep the kid from screaming would be to distract him. So, I turned around, knelt in front of the stroller and started talking to the tyke, who immediately became shy and quiet. I started to tease him and tickle his toes, and soon he was giggling. That made me smile too, and the mom sighed, “Oh, thank you!”
    So, rather than get truly annoyed, I played with a cute kid, had some fun, and de-stressed not just him but myself!

  • Verna

    Laurel, I love your very Zen – and practical! – suggestions for making the most of a bad situation. Here’s another tip I can add: breathe! when we feel stress, our shoulders go up, our jaws clench, and our stomach muscles tighten – which are all indicators that we’re not breathing. It’s amazing how just 30 seconds of focused deep breathing can change a person’s attitude.

    I love both of these stories about kids. Thanks!

  • Karen Heavrin

    The second (and final) leg of my flight got cancelled last Thursday due to weather. We flew Louisville > Chicago > Pittsburgh > Dallas > Albuquerque.

    • Laurel

      Yikes! That’s a lot of re-routing! So much for Zen traveling!

Leave a Comment