It’s the sign no one wants to see when they are waiting for a flight: Delayed. After rushing to the airport and waiting in line to check in and get through security, the last thing you want to do is wait more.

The fact is, delays happen. In 2012, more than 86,000 flights were delayed for a number of reasons, most commonly weather, mechanical issues or air traffic backups. While the majority of airline passengers (about 99 percent) got to their destinations on time, millions more were left to sit in airports and wonder “What do I do now?”

A flight delay can be inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. And in fact, with a few savvy moves, you can turn the hold-up into an enjoyable part of your trip.

Ask Nicely

When you are dealing with any type of travel glitch, from a delayed flight to a less-than-ideal hotel room, the most important thing to remember is to keep your cool. Sure, the flight delay is going to affect your plans, or even cause you to miss an important connection or meeting. However, it’s not the gate agent’s fault, and if you approach him or her with a bad attitude, you’re not going to get very far.

A better strategy is to put your irritation on the backburner, and approach the gate desk with an attitude of “We’re in this together,” and a sense of humor. Then, politely ask for what you need. You may be surprised what airlines would be willing to provide to a loyal customer who asks. For example, if you’re going to be delayed for several hours during a mealtime, ask for a voucher to help offset the cost of lunch. If it’s late at night and the flight isn’t leaving until morning, ask for a hotel room. You may be score a pass to the airport lounge, free drinks or movies once you finally do take off or other perks simply by being polite and asking for them. Some airlines will even give you extra frequent flyer miles for your trouble – but you have to ask.

Get Out of the Airport

So you’ve booked that dream trip to Hawaii, but get stuck with a nine-hour delay in San Francisco. Don’t spend all of that time wandering the terminal and checking your watch – get out and explore! If you have a significant delay, of more than five hours, you’ll usually have plenty of time to grab a cab and do some sightseeing. You’ll have to bring your carry-on bags with you, and be rescreened by security when you return, but checking out an art exhibit or a popular landmark is a better use of your time than munching on Cinnabons and watching the same news loop 467 times.

Even if you can’t go out exploring in the city, find a nearby airport hotel that offers a “day-stay” rate. Some properties close to airports, knowing that many travellers will only have a few hours to stay, allow travellers to pay a fee and have full access to the hotel amenities; some even allow use of a room for the day, letting you put your stuff down, take a nap or even shower. This is a great option when you’re travelling with kids. Instead of racing up and down the concourse and asking “Are we there yet?” a million times, they can get out their energy in the hotel pool or play outdoors for a while until it’s time to go.

Explore the Airport

If your delay isn’t that long, or leaving the airport isn’t practical, ask about the amenities that it has to offer. While you can almost certainly kill time in the shops or get a massage or manicure to help you chill out, many airports offer interesting cultural attractions that most travellers miss. Ask an airport concierge whether there are any museums or interesting public art in any of the terminals. The airports in San Francisco, Denver and Toronto, for example, have vibrant art museums and exhibits worth checking out.

A delayed flight can be a hassle when you are eager to reach your destination, but with the right attitude and a willingness to explore, it can be a bonus to your vacation. Before you head out on your next getaway, do some research on what’s available in the airports you’ll be flying through – you may find yourself hoping for a delay.

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Post submitted by Haley M