Computer problems and uncertain weather patterns increase flight delays – A taste of the future?

United Airlines computer system shut down for several hours on Friday, June 17th. It’s going to take several days for thousands of stranded passengers to get to their destinations. This happens rarely but with the recent spate of cyber attacks on other companies from Sony to CitiBank, one wonders if the silver lining of ticket-less, and other computer based services, travel has tarnished.

Travel is inherently filled with uncertainty – it’s part of the excitement that opens you up to the world and to more self-awareness. You step out of the familiar, secure routines. Plans must adjust whenever circumstances shift. Staying flexible, in attitude and body, makes it much easier to weather the stress. However when you are forced to miss flights, overnight in airports or pay for unscheduled last minute lodging and perhaps alternative transportation, it’s much harder to maintain equilibrium.

What’s a traveler to do?

Here’s three key suggestions:

1. Be prepared for change

2. Manage your options

3. Pack smartly.

I recently endured a 6 hour delay out of JFK airport on Delta. I had arrived 3 hours early to get some WiFi work done before lift-off, so it was especially grueling. The delay started when flights had been diverted due to weather but paralleled the same frustration caused by the computer glitch delays. We sat on the tarmac for nearly 3 hours, were guided back to the gate, sat another two hours, re-boarded and sat in a long-line of planes slowly working its way into the airspace, before lift-off.

The airline personnel worked feverishly to answer questions and address concerns but had few answers in a continually evolving situation. I saw several fellow travelers sprint off to check out alternative routes but in fact only two ditched the original itinerary. In our terminal most of the restaurants and services were closed for the night.  The situation was frustrating, uncomfortable and exhausting.

On the ground I had a good book (eReader would’ve been better); my laptop, phone and camera to keep me occupied but it was the middle of the night before we left on a flight that was supposed to arrive before 10pm. I felt dull, disheartened and sank into the seat in the airport and then in the middle seat of the crowded plane. We were given no pillows and only half of the passengers had blankets. Once finally airborne, I felt for the older gentleman next to me whose head kept bobbing as he tried to get some sleep and hugged himself to stay warm.

Put together a small kit that will be easy to reach when you need it. Mine never leaves my carry-on, even at home.

My ever-ready travel kit includes:

  • An inflatable neck pillow. It looks like half a donut when inflated and is easy to carry in a small, flat pouch. There are many varieties on the market.
  • Comfortable ear plugs (bring two sets as they can pop out and wearing one is no help).
  • A lightweight eye mask.
  • MP3 player fully charged and loaded with audio books, meditation audio, favorite music.
  • The Flytime Yoga booklet – the small, targeted stretches help to avoid cramped muscles and back pain from sitting. The breath techniques help you sleep and calm anxiety on bumpier passages. Why bother?*
  • Protein snacks – dry roasted nuts and a few dates tossed in a baggie will help to stave off the munchies and detour you from more sugary, salted, fat filled options – if those are even available.
  • A Pashmina shawl is invaluable as a blanket when sitting in a drafty plane. There are alternatives for men that can fit flatly in your briefcase/carry-on.
  • Whatever toiletries and medication that you absolutely must have in case of an unexpected overnight delay.

*One of the worst aspects of flight delays is the mind-numbing lethargy. Remembering to stretch every hour becomes far less appealing when you’re tired and frustrated. Deep vein thrombosis is a real concern on many flights and to many airlines credit, they are offering a few illustrated stretches in flight magazines and video on some flights.

Go gentle with yourself and when the opportunity presents itself, for example if  a seat mate gets up, get up as well or at least use the extra space to stretch out a bit. Walk to the back of the plane and ask for some water. Drink water often and avoid caffeine or alcohol. Staying hydrated helps to reduce stress on the body and is a constant challenge in low humidity cabin environments.

Always dress for comfort when flying. It takes more attention on business trips but favor stretchy, blended fabrics for pants and shirts. A cotton blend is better for wicking away perspiration. Compression socks are excellent on longer flights, helping to reduce swelling in the feet and ankles. Wear shoes that slip on and off easily – they help speed you through security and make it easier to stretch cramped toes. If you have a computer case or larger bag tucked under the seat in front of you, use it as a foot stool. Having your feet elevated helps your body align better for sleep and takes a bit of pressure off the lower back at the same time.

At the end of my long delay, I arrived in San Diego about 3 am. Managing baggage claim, ground transportation and the drive home and through the next day was surprisingly easy. I’m sure that the stretching, care about what I ate and packing smartly made all the difference.

Whatever the reasons for your flight delay, make the best of the situation by carrying what you need to stay comfortable and rested. Working through these options and packing smartly will ensure that you arrive feeling great, stay productive and pain free.

Copyright 2011. Elaine Masters, RYT, Trip Wellness Specialist, Speaker and award-winning author of Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga. Available at www.DrivetimeYoga.com. Sign up for our bi-monthly Trip Well Tips newsletter above for the latest offers, travel news and events.