This blog is updated in 2020
Airport delays, flight cancellations, long waits in the security line—those are some of the not-so-welcome gifts that we get during the holiday season. Though we can’t avoid all holiday travel snafus, we can be prepared. This list of apps and other services will help.
Your airline’s app
Flight status, gate changes, alerts, nearby lounge info, and your mobile boarding pass—you’ll get all of these through your airline’s app. My longtime friend George Hobica, founder of Airfare Watchdog, is a big fan of the British Airways and American Airlines apps: in our interview with him, he said they’re the last ones he would ever delete from his phone. As a United frequent flier, I have the same dependency on the United Airlines app; many’s the time it’s saved me from queuing up in an airport line.
This one isn’t an app, it’s a website and (gasp!) a phone service, but none of us at WendyPerrin.com ever book complicated flights without it, because when your flight is canceled or delayed, and you really need to get where you’re going, this is the help you need. Sure, you could choose to spend frustrating hours on the phone with unhelpful airline customer service centers, trying to reroute your own trip—or you could let the experts at Cranky Concierge handle it. They have knowledge of and access to information you won’t be able to get on your own, and they can research and rebook you with the best possible option while you get a drink at the airport bar. Their urgent assistance service starts at $100 and is accessible through the website and via phone (U.S.: 888-747-1011 x9; global: +1-74- 200-4200 x9).
This one may seem obvious, but make sure you have Twitter on your phone: Following your airline’s feed can be one of the quickest ways to find out about delays or cancellations. It can also be an effective way to get in touch with an airline rep fast: Tweet your question or complaint to the airline, and they’re incentivized to give you a speedy answer.
The line at security used to be one of the most unpredictable pain points in your journey. You could guess how busy the checkpoint would be, but you couldn’t know for sure until you got there. Luckily, that has changed. With the MyTSA app, you can see which airports are experiencing general delays (the app won’t tell you about your own specific flight, but it’ll give you an idea of how backed up the airport is overall), and you can also check security wait times posted by real people who are currently standing in line. And you can check all this before you leave the house.
This app tracks flight status and can alert you to delays or weather cancellations, sometimes more efficiently than the airline will. If your flight does get cancelled due to a storm and you want to do what I do—which is to find alternate flights that connect in cities that are having no weather issues—it can tell you which large hubs are unaffected by the current weather situation.
Once you’re at the airport, use GateGuru to find the best services, restaurants, and shops near your gate—or, if you’re stuck for hours, throughout the airport. The app also provides flight delay info, so that once you’ve found your perfect snack spot, you don’t have to get up until it’s time to board.
You no longer need to hold special status or specific credit cards to access certain airport lounges—just pay a fee and you’re entitled to all the comfy couches, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks the elite travelers get. LoungeBuddy (available for iPhone only) will help you find these pay-for-the-day enclaves, show you photos and reviews posted by other travelers, and let you book a spot in advance when possible. And if you do have special access via a credit card or frequent-flier program, LoungeBuddy can store your info and let you know when those free-access lounges are nearby too.
FLIO–The Global Airport App
This multi-function app partners with more than 300 airports around the world to collect information that will make your time on the ground as smooth and stress-free as possible. Although it can’t do anything about the actual delays, it does provide real-time flight tracking, a lounge-booking feature, an airport parking reservation system, airport maps, and discounts at restaurants and shops.
Whether you’re stuck in a foreign airport or struggling to communicate with a taxi driver,,a good translation app is a must. When you open Google’s app and speak right into the phone, it automatically translates, out loud, into the selected language. Pass the phone back and forth and you can have a complete (albeit slow) conversation with just about anyone. The app also has dozens of downloadable language dictionaries, so that you can use it offline.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned (or you didn’t plan at all) and you need a hotel room right now. HotelTonight is made for those times, offering last-minute discounts on hotels of various star levels. The app doesn’t cover every destination in the world, but it does include a lot of big cities and popular travel spots in the U.S. and overseas.
Uber and Lyft
When you need a ride and you don’t want to drive (or shouldn’t), these are still the go-to rideshare apps every traveler should have in their phone. Uber is also useful in many other countries around the world.
Free WiFi Finder
Internet service: In a lot of cases, if you don’t have that, then you don’t have anything. This app locates free Wi-Fi hotspots in more than 50 countries.
What other apps have saved you during holiday travel? Tell us about them in the comments below.