Travel snafus? Be proactive, perceptive, pleasant

Delays and detours pop up during the navigation of any life, regardless of where you roam. It doesn’t matter whether you travel far or even leave home.

Don’t underestimate the value of common sense, empathy and an even temperament. All go a long way toward making progress – or at least building resilience – when the unpredictable happens.

February snowstorms followed a stretch of record-setting subzero temps, both a test of our mettle, but that’s not what prompts these reflections. As I write, the possibility of another government shutdown looms, which triggers memories of this year’s first.

I was mixing business and fun in New York City in January, with a ticket to fly home on the day when a shortage of air traffic controllers at La Guardia Airport meant lengthy delays for many flights. Other flights were canceled.

The Federal Aviation Administration decided not as many planes could safely depart or arrive because of the staff shortage. The week’s news reports already had lamented about hours-long waits to get through airport security. Rumors were circulating among colleagues that having a “TSA precheck” didn’t matter.

My original plan was to fly to Chicago, then Madison. I am spoiled because of the federal Global Entry “trusted traveler” program, which routinely routes me through domestic airport security quickly.

Online, my Delta flight was listed as on time, but I didn’t believe it, so I got to the airport four hours early.

TSA precheck worked fine and fast, contrary to speculation, and I was stunned to arrive home three hours earlier than scheduled. My advice to you:

Don’t presume. Cheap airfares tend to be non-refundable, but not in unusual situations like this. Flight-change penalties were waived because disruptions were the result of an FAA decision.

No one told me this until I asked.

Be proactive. I saw Delta flights that left New York a lot earlier, and a couple that were nonstop to Madison. Flightaware.com showed whether these planes were grounded, delayed or already in the air to La Guardia.

So I knew what to ask for when rebooking, instead of letting someone else do the homework.

Be perceptive. Gate agents get a bad rap for circumstances that often are out of their control. They also have choices, some of which you won’t like. Don’t demand your alternative; suggest it. Have more than one option in mind, in case the first falls through.

Calling an agent by name suggests you might remember them later, for better or worse.

Be patient. One gate agent passed me off to another. I was too late for one flight, and another was full. Although I accepted a standby ticket, it was only after making sure I had a definite seat on a subsequent flight.

Realize that the shuffle from one gate, agent or flight to another can get confusing.

Be pleasant. Anger gets you nowhere. Empathize or inject a little humor. Saying “please” and “thank you” matter.

Pack light. Passengers have to travel with their luggage. Having only a carry-on makes it possible or easier to take advantage of a last-minute option.

Business brought me to Manhattan in the middle of winter, but it was a fine time to visit. Lines for attractions seem shorter. Prices for airfare, lodging and more are lower.

Thanks to TravelZoo.com, I snagged four-star accommodations at the new Aliz Hotel for $109 per night. It was an easy walk to Times Square. Best hotel perks: views from the two-story-tall rooftop bar and the in-room Keurig coffeemaker, comfy robe and mini refrigerator. alizhotel.com

Seven quick take-aways from this three-night trip:

Just like last year, my visit coincided with NYC Restaurant Week, and the three-course, fixed price ($42 for dinner, $26 for lunch) menus are good value for the pricey city. That said, many of the hottest restaurants don’t bother to participate.

When a restaurant bills itself as “the oldest” in the city, that certainly doesn’t make it “the best” in its food category. Let’s leave it at that since I’m not a restaurant critic.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is among the in-demand tickets on Broadway. My theory is that half-price ticket booths sell only the most expensive seats for shows. I prefer to ask for “the cheapest available ticket” at a theater’s box office, which worked even though I couldn’t do this until one-half hour before curtain time.

The definition of “obstructed view” varies wildly. A $39 “Mockingbird” ticket was in the last row of the balcony, which meant occasionally perching myself on the top of a seat (fine, since nobody was behind me). A $38 “Come from Away” obstructed-view ticket was in the first row, close enough to see actors sweat, and a tremendous deal.

Broadway tickets routinely command a three-digit price. Rush ticket rules vary from theater to theater. Keep track through playbill.com (search “broadway rush lottery” or “standing-room-only policies”).

A couple of months before leaving home, I monitored 1iota.com for free tickets to television shows. Didn’t make the cut for the Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers shows, but for the second year got access to live broadcasting of “The View” on ABC-TV. It’s fine to go solo, as many do; a comedienne loosens up the crowd and helps strangers connect for chitchat.

For next time: While waiting for “The View” to air, an audience seatmate mentioned Broadway Sessions, a twice-a-month, after-theater, impromptu variety show featuring Broadway actors. They perform, interact with the crowd and a part of the cover charge (only $10!) benefits nonprofit causes. These Thursday shows start at 10 p.m. and last 90 minutes. bencameron.nyc/sessions.html