June 1, 2012 -- A naked man running through traffic causing delays probably doesn't rank high on your list of potential travel problems but it has happened on the 405 freeway leading to Los Angeles' vast international airport in the past couple of years - twice.
There are lots of surprise problems that can creep up on you and throw a wrench in the best planned trips; here are seven unexpected snafus, and how to fix them.
Seven Surprise Travel Problems and Solutions
1. Traffic delays.
You may not have to worry about naked men on the freeway, but you never know what could snarl a drive to the airport, whether it's an accident or a raging brush fire (which delayed one of my employees, also on LA's notorious 405 freeway). Worst airports for potential traffic delays: my picks include LAX, Chicago's O'Hare and New York's Big 3 - LaGuardia, JFK and Newark.
Your smart phone is your best friend in terms of finding traffic reports and alternative routes. Don't have a smart phone? Borrow someone's or arrange for your kids to follow the traffic and ring you on your "dumb" phone with updates.
Two more solutions: A.) Leave early, especially if going abroad. Some airlines require your presence at the gate one or two hours before departure and if you are even five minutes late, you may turned away.
B.) If you are stuck in traffic, call the airline immediately: If you don't call and you do miss the flight, your ticket loses all its value. If there's a chance you'll make the plane, the airline will likely hold on to your seat for a while (instead of quickly allocating it to a standby passenger) but unless you are CEO of the airline, they will not hold the plane.
2. Unusual apparel. A woman flying American Airlines last week found out the hard way that free speech has its limits; her t-shirt was emblazoned with the "f-word" - a big no-no as far as the pilot was concerned. She eventually covered up and was allowed to fly, but not before missing one of her flights.
Solution: Use your common sense, and check out your carrier's contract of carriage before you fly (found on every airline website). American Airlines' contract says they can refuse to transport anyone who is barefoot; has an offensive odor; or is wearing anything that "would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers."
Yes, a man clad only in women's underwear was allowed to fly on US Airways last summer (I have no idea why) but two men with saggy pants were given the boot (by US Airways and Southwest). Make a personal or political statement on a plane at your peril.
3. Bad weather.
Winter is not the worst season for flight delays and cancellations; summer is prime time for getting stuck in airports.
Solution: Be prepared. If you're with the kids, make sure you have snacks and games or movies to keep them occupied during a long wait. You'll be busy trying to get on the next flight out which means A.) getting in the line immediately to speak to an airline representative and B.) calling your airline at the same time; you never know which will be quicker. Check out other airline options too in case your carrier's planes are full.
4. Lost or stolen documents.
Wallet stolen or passport is missing? There are things you can do.
Solution: First, cancel your credit cards; if you suspect theft, contact local authorities and make a report. If your passport is missing, contact the nearest embassy or consulate, and do not delay -- you may be able to get a replacement passport within 24 hours.
How to fly with no ID: The TSA will let you fly but you will have to help them verify your identity by "answering a few questions," so get to the airport an hour earlier than usual.
Before you go: Add credit card hotline numbers, airline contacts and embassy/consulate numbers to your mobile. Make copies of passports and credit cards as well as mobile phone contacts; give a copy to someone you trust and keep another on your person.
5. Wrong airport, wrong terminal.
It does happen. A recent TripAdvisor post by an employee of Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS) said, "We often have passengers miss their flight [with us] because they type in either the Fort Walton Beach Airport or the Destin airport. Both are airports, they just aren't served by the major airlines."
Another snafu: You're flying American at Dallas' DFW airport, so you naturally head for the "American terminal." That could be any one of four terminals at DFW and the resulting confusion could make you late for the plane.
Yet another snafu: You're flying Southwest for the first time out of Chicago. You go to O'Hare. Southwest, however, only flies out of Chicago's Midway.
One more: A friend once waited out a storm at DFW before finally getting a flight back home to Southern California; too late she realized the plane was heading to LAX; unfortunately, she left her car at the Burbank airport.
Solution: Know before you go. Always, always examine your tickets but also check for updates on your airline's website and/or Facebook and/or tweets.
Note: Sometimes it pays to knowingly board a flight that's not on your itinerary just to get away from a bad weather situation, especially if the alternative is being delayed for days, but save your receipts. You might be able to work something out with your carrier later or expense it if you're flying for work.
6. Unexpected rule changes.
They raised the bag fees but somehow you missed it.
Solution: Try throwing yourself on the mercy of the airline, but if it's Spirit, be prepared to mount a Facebook campaign and garner 30,000 "likes" because that's what it took for a dying veteran to pry a refund out of them. Otherwise, have a credit card handy; the airline may not take cash.
7. Bad jokes.
A JFK passenger jokingly told a TSA officer this month, "Yes, I have a bomb." The officer was not amused. Inappropriate remarks will delay you; they could also land you in jail.
Solution: Do I really have to tell you a security checkpoint is not a comedy club?