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The longest flight delay of my life and five tips to make sure you will be more prepared than I was.

It’s 2007 and I
am attempting to fly from Cape Town to New York City. I am quite a punctual
person and a stickler for rules too. You want me there three hours before my
international flight? Sure, no problem. So here I am, 3pm on a Thursday,
standing in a line to check-in for my 6pm flight to JFK. I am third in line,
and realize that I have not moved in fifteen minutes. An airport employee makes
an announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to inform you that we are
facing some technical difficulties with our system. Please be patient while we
try to fix the problem”.

Three hours
later the problem is fixed. I check in my bags. My flight has obviously been
delayed at this point. As I am about to exit immigration I see that our flight
has now been delayed further, with a boarding time of 8:25pm. I approach an
airport employee, asking for information. Apparently there has been a fault
with the engine. Okay, fair. I would rather they realize this beforehand, and
sort out the problem. A few hours later the engine fault is fixed. But now the
pilot has been awake for too long, and cannot legally fly. We need a new pilot.
It is now close to midnight. After some more time waiting, we are herded into a
shuttle bus and taken to a nearby hotel for a few hours of sleep. Back to the
airport Friday morning at 7am. More delays. More waiting. We finally leave at
10am.

Any delay can
be a frustration, and I was especially frustrated and bored through all the
waiting. I had planned to sleep through the flight, and maybe watch a couple of
movies on the plane. I had not prepared myself for hours of waiting. Now I
always make sure that I am prepared. Here are my top tips for making delays
bearable.

Comfort

Make sure you
have a spare change of clothing. Nothing is worse than having to sit in the
same sweaty clothes for longer than needed. If you have not already, invest in
a decent travelling pillow. It makes all the difference for your neck!

Practicalities

If you have
someone waiting for you at your destination, contact them to let them know that
you are facing delays. It may seem obvious, but in all the rush and chaos of
plans changing, this is something that can easily be overlooked. Also, make
sure that you have enough local currency or a reliable bank card that will
work. While airlines often provide meal vouchers during long delays, they are not legally obliged to do so. Therefore, it’s always
good to have your own supply of cash on hand.

Entertainment

So this is the most important thing. You are going to be somewhere
between mildly and severely angry about your delay, depending on your tolerance
for plans to change. You need to have an arsenal of options for entertainment.
Luckily most airports supply you with at least some free Wi-Fi access. If you run out of your free
Wi-Fi, go have a coffee at a restaurant. You’ll probably need the caffeine, and
most restaurants at airports will have their Wi-Fi that you are free to use as
a customer. So now that you have internet connection, your options are open!
For me the best thing to do is find something online that you can become super
engrossed in. You want to forget about the delay and let time whizz by. My
personal favorites include cat videos, and some super cool online slots games. And the best part is that you
can play these from your mobile phone! So if you’re not travelling with your
laptop, you can still have some fun!

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