Top 12 things to do if you are stuck at an airport when the next Hurricane Irene or earthquake strikes US East Coast

Update: The article now includes two bonus points, specifically addressing Hurricane Irene! (thanks to Vinay Bhaskara for those)

On August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene hit the US East Coast, all the way up to New York City! Just prior to that, on August 23rd, an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale hit the US east coast. It shook the nation’s Capital and was felt strongly in New York but luckily not many were hurt. It happened just hours after the strongest earthquake in Colorado in 40 years, and one in Colombia. Airports in NYC, DC, Virginia were shut down and power and cellphone lines cut. So while people couldn’t make calls or receive them, they could send text messages, tweet, post on Facebook and in other social networks and fuel all kinds of hot debates.

We reached out to our partner, Philippe Scheimann from SOSTravelers.com and asked him for a guest article on what to do in such a situation, when a crisis hits a region not well prepared to deal with it. Hence, here is the guest article by Philippe, which provides Top 10 tips on what to do if you’re stuck at an airport after an earthquake (assuming you’re still connected to the internet).

1. Tell the world about yourself and get some urgent help

It is a good idea to update your status on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks as soon as possible so that you can tell the world about yourself, your situation and what you need. See, for instance,  the story of a traveler stuck in India because of an airline strike and starting a Twitter account to get some help.

2. Find the right location in the airport to charge your devices

You need to keep in mind that batteries of smart phones as well as laptops discharge quickly. You’ll need to think of applications that require as little resources as possible such as texting and avoid using voice services.

In some cases, the power may be down yet generators may be working to provide some basic services. In these areas, it might be possible to recharge your batteries and a hot-spot may be working. Here is a good site dedicated to helping you find power while travelling at airports around the globe

3. Find out what’s happening

During crises like earthquakes, you need to find out what is really happening and filter misinformation and rumors. It is recommended that you follow official sources of information such as the US Geological Survey website whose updates can be accessed through Twitter or by following accounts such as  earthquakebot programmed by Bill Snitzer.

It is also useful to take a look at Trendsmap.com or geochirp.com. Applications like geochirp allow searching in a specific location based on key words the people who are tweeting. Once you see the identity and the posts of those people, it is then possible to start a dialog online.

While radio might very much be considered a technology of the past, it is worth having a battery operated radio or  a MP3 player with radio. They take up little room and if the power goes out, these devices may be the only devices that will allow you to be updated from reliable sources.

4. See how you can help

In circumstances like an earthquake, it is crucial to help one another, share resources and skills.  Going through various posts, talking in real life with people around you may allow you to help in various ways as well as receive some help.

5. Use Twitter to follow airlines and airports

If Twitter is up and running, it is worth following accounts of the airport as well as various airlines in order to get some information and to interact directly with airport officials. You will need to find and use hashtags that are relevant to your situation. This way, you can be part of the conversation. This came in handy during the ashcloud too!

6. Use Facebook to follow/create pages on the situation

There is a good chance that a page or a group will have been created and devoted to the situation you are in. If there is no page nor group, it is very easy and straightforward to create one. Update your status, find out if there is a group, and create one if there’s not.

7. Use Google+ to have useful discussions

Google+ is the new actor in the social network arena and it already has achieved a substantial user base. While there are still no business accounts connected to G+, there is quality information and healthy interaction between users. See what Thom Miller has to say regarding G+ vs FB and the earthquake in Virginia in response to active supporters like Robert Scobble:

Thom Miller – I have about 100 messages on my G+ stream about the earthquake. I have three on Facebook ‘news feed’. What’s really funny about that is that most of my friends and family on Facebook are in Virginia..

8. Use your cell phone creativelyWhen power is down and cellphone lines are cut, cellphones may still be used in a … smart way taking into account that their batteries discharge quickly especially if you use multiple applications.

While it is probably a better choice to use text than voice applications, there are some free voice applications such as Skype, Google Talk or Viber that also provide chat services. It is never a good thing to have to hang up a conversation right in the middle because your battery is dead.

If you see that the situation may last long, it is best to rely on text messages. Remember, in certain countries you can post on Twitter using text messages.

9. Find out who has the same needs around you

Natural events like earthquakes put everyone on the same boat. Some travelers have the same needs such as travelling from one particular place to another. If the airport is shut-down, an airport located several hours’ drive away may be operational. While it might be possible to find some individual solutions for each traveler, it is recommended to find out who has the same needs around you and find a common solution such as chartering a bus together, renting a car or more. Social networks as well as basic social skills such as starting a conversation with you neighbor could help you find other persons with the same needs as yours.

10. Get help to travel/sleep/eat

You can purchase a $2/month membership and contact SOStravelers.com to re-arrange your travel plans. SOStravelers aims at helping stranded travelers by providing a platform for collective solutions and connecting them to experienced travel agents available 24×7.

An experienced travel agent will be able to access various platforms that travelers cannot normally access. The travel agent will find the solution even if it requires sending the traveler to another airport or even finding a room in a hotel when it is not possible to find one using automated services and more.

At SOSTravelers, we are also looking to provide collective solutions so that a group of travelers who may not know each other at first but by sharing the same aims become an ad-hoc community. This community may then be able to find some cost-effective solutions that would not have been found individually such as renting together a car, hiring a bus or even a plane.

11. Stay Towards the Center of the airport building

Hurricanes are renowned for their destructive power, often downing trees and sending debris flying. Thus building exteriors are often broken or even entirely destroyed. So it’s safer to shift towards the middle of your airport terminal and/or building, where you won’t be hit by flying debris or falling trees. Plus, the center of the building exposes you least to the elements (and cold weather).

12. Familiarize Yourself With Airline Policies for the Post-Event Snarl

The periods following a major natural disaster are often amongst the most complicated travel periods for airlines, as they have to return all stranded travelers to their final destinations, in addition to dealing with normal passenger traffic. Therefore it is often hard to get help from the airline’s customer service reps with regards to change fees, re-booking, and the like.

Visiting the airline’s website to get their exact policies beforehand is a very smart thing to do.

We hope you found these tips useful. Do you have some of your own experiences to share? Please feel free to comment on the article or Tweet us (@simpliflying)

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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