(LifeWire) -- At wit's end, Jay Lenstrom, chief executive of Chicago-based Radiate Group, decided to hit the road.
Load your cell phone with airlines' 800 numbers, so you can call other carriers flying your route in the event of a delay or cancellation.
A recent flight home from Nashville, Tennessee, was repeatedly delayed due to bad weather, so a fed up Lenstrom rented a tiny car at the airport and drove 518 miles -- through a tornado, flooding and hail.
It was the "most relaxing travel experience I had in five years," Lenstrom recalls. "I only spoke to who I wanted to call... I sat next to no one ...(I) saw four states, waved to farmers, and listened to country music."
Lenstrom arrived just in time for dinner. The flight never did reach Chicago that night.
New York City resident Tom Berger feels Lenstrom's pain. Berger, who travels for business every week to Boston, has seen the situation get progressively worse over the last nine months, especially this past summer.
"Every single day, every single time, every single week, there were three- or four-hour delays," said Berger, 39, a sales executive. "One time, three of my flights were cancelled successively. I rebooked, and I rebooked and I rebooked. I've never seen it like this."
Dismal forecasts from the Department of Transportation's inspector general office confirm what these and other travelers are coping with. Based on the first seven months of 2007, the DOT notes, "it is clear that 2007 may be the busiest travel period since the peak of 2000 and may surpass the 2000 record levels for flight delays, cancellations and diversions."
In June, for example, 462 flights sat on the runway more than three hours, and in August, nearly 30 percent of all flights were delayed, according to the DOT. Customer complaints have doubled.
At a time when so many travelers feel helpless, frequent fliers stress the need to be proactive. "If you're on offensive footing, as opposed to defensive, all of life goes better, including flying," says Troy Williams, an Internet entrepreneur from Houston, Texas, who has logged as many as 150,000 air miles in a year.
Here are some techniques Williams and other savvy travelers like him employ to avoid delays:
How to shorten delays
When a delay hits, there are things you can do to minimize the damage.
"It's all about being quick on your feet. It's like a bazaar in Cairo; you have to negotiate everything," said Matthew Bennett, publisher of the newsletter First-Class Flyer and the business travel blog FlightBliss.com, who offers these tips:
Of course, some problems are beyond consumers' and the airlines' control. Certain delays are the inevitable result of surging numbers of travelers, reduced capacity, poor weather conditions and congested airports and air space.
"Plan for it not to go right," says Williams. "When it goes right, be happy." E-mail to a friend
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Neil Edward Schlecht is a freelance writer based in Litchfield County, Connecticut, and the author of more than a dozen travel guides.
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