Don't Feel Like a Travel Prisoner

You can learn a lot about how to survive flight cancellations these days thanks to internet search engines. Just type in "how to survive in prison."
By: Rudy Maxa


Photo by: Digital Vision.

Digital Vision.

You can learn a lot about how to survive flight cancellations, unexpected weather delays and other negative aspects of flying these days thanks to Internet search engines. Just type in “how to survive in prison.”


It’s startling how much advice related to serving time successfully is applicable to air travel. For example, the first rule of survival according to a posting by a former inmate and author of “How to Survive Prison and Jail” is “Get along with the prison administration.”


Just substitute “airline employees” for “prison administration,” and you’ll find the paramount rule promulgated by this ex-con applies in both cases: Behave the way they want you to behave. And consider this advice from the same source: “The first time I faced prison, it seemed like my life was over. I had ulcers, depression and I could only wonder how to survive in jail. And unless you’re armed with knowledge, it’ll be tough to survive the most traumatic time of your life. Knowing what to do and what you’re going to face is half the battle of how to survive in lockup.”

Let’s tweak that for the benefit of travelers: “The first time I [slept overnight in an airport] or [was trapped in a snowstorm on a plane for 13 hours] or [had to spend 4 extra days with my in-laws over the holidays because of flight cancellations] it seemed like my life was over. I had ulcers, depression, and could only wonder how I’d survive.”


You get the idea.


One last line from that ex-con: “There are rules on prison etiquette, and you have to learn them fast. It’s a Catch 22. You don’t know the rules, but you can’t ask what they are.”
Sound like anyplace else you know, Mr. and Ms. Frequent Flyer?

To continue the airport/prison analogy, consider this advice from a blog post by a corrections officer named Scott Ranzau: “Prison survival includes staying out of trouble. Do not get caught with weapons or contraband or break any rule violations.” And: “The first tip I would suggest is to keep a low profile. In prison you do not want to attract attention to yourself from the corrections officers or from the inmates.”


Exactly my advice to travelers!

There are thousands of terrific airline employees who go out of their way on a daily basis to help passengers. But I have seen dozens of conversations between passengers and a desk/gate agent or flight attendant turn into confrontations with alarming speed. In those cases, the passenger is usually less than diplomatic or feels helpless while the airline employee is either feeling self-important or bitter about a lost pension.


Whoever is to blame, airport rage is never a good idea. Work calmly but persistently to find the answer to your question (for example, how to rebook a flight). Find a more agreeable airline employee, or politely ask to speak to a manager, as former travel agent and travel blogger David Rowell did in late December while flying from Amsterdam to Seattle.

Rowell is an elite member of Alaska Airlines’ frequent-flyer program, and his luggage fees were supposed to be waived. Not according to the airline’s agent who checked him in at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Rowell politely insisted he was right and asked the agent to double-check with the airline’s duty manager. She reluctantly picked up her phone and stayed on hold “while looking at me hatefully,” Rowell said in a blog posting. After a quick conversation in Dutch, she hung up and told Rowell he’d have to pay for his checked luggage.

When Rowell (calmly, he reports) asked if she’d spoken to a duty manager, she looked him in the eye and lied, saying she had done so. But after Rowell asked for the name of the employee, she admitted she talked to someone else.

Rowell sought out a nearby customer service agent who verified his luggage should fly free and called the ticketing agent to tell her so. Miffed, the overruled agent told Rowell she’d done her job perfectly even as she issued him his baggage tags at no charge.

“Rude, inept staff lie to our face to cover up their inadequacies and laziness,” Rowell said, “safe and secure in the knowledge that they will never be held accountable for their actions.”

Did I read that last sentence in a blog by a prisoner about prison correction staff?

Rudy Maxa is a consumer travel writer and radio show host as well as executive producer of Rudy Maxa’s World, a public television series on the world’s great destinations (

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