Stay calm, be polite: passengers who treat airline reps with courtesy have a much better chance of a happy ending.
Talk to the right people: gate agents and VIP club reps are often more responsive than ticket-counter agents (and try the VIP reps even if you're not a member).
European fliers: you may be covered by the European Union's passenger bill of rights. Review it before you fly.
Have a back-up plan: If the worst happens, and your airline is not helpful, use your favorite travel tool to create a list of alternate flight schedules; also put together a list of hotels near your connecting and destination airports (along with the local numbers) and a list of rental car agencies and numbers.
Call hotels directly: Don't be fooled by Web sites that say a hotel is sold out; many set aside as much as 50 percent of their rooms for walk-up customers. Call the hotel's local number (request it from the chain's "800" or from the hotel's individual Web site).
Pre-emptive strike: If you absolutely must make that meeting, check out the airlines with the most flights to your destination before you go to the airport; you may want to head directly to that airline's terminal the moment you find out your flight is cancelled or delayed.
Stuck on the tarmac? Call the press: A passenger at Dallas-Ft. Worth airport was stuck on the tarmac recently; rather than demanding to get off (which rarely, if ever, works) he simply called a local media outlet and was soon on the air (reporters love stuck-on-the-tarmac stories); magically, the passengers were soon allowed to deplane.
As they say, the more you know, the better off you'll be. And if you fly often enough, chances are you will be delayed or see your flight cancelled. If you know your rights, you'll be way ahead of most everyone else.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new generation, software combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.