Travel Chaos and Lessons Learned

Maybe some of you are enduring the same current struggles of the MANY MANY flight cancellations and delays since the day before Christmas Eve here in the USA??..We have learned some new difficult lessons that I think are valuable reminders/warnings for both sitters and homeowners.

We were supposed to fly from Albuquerque, NM USA home to San Diego, CA on Christmas Day Dec. 25th. Got to our gate an hour before boarding time (no prior messaging from Southwest) at our gate we find out flight is an hour delayed. Then another hour delayed. Then cancelled. We had checked three HUGE bags which contained gifts for our nephews from all the family in NM. There was only ONE agent in the entire southwest gates A1-A12 that was there to help passengers from all but two cancelled flights re-book. We decided to leave the gate area and go back to check-in since we have priority and talk to the agent at check-in about getting re-booked and how to get our checked luggage back. By doing this it probably saved us 1-2hrs of not waiting in the incredibly long line at the gate.

An hour and half later we finally get our checked luggage back primarily because there was only one agent down there dealing with all the delayed, lost, and cancelled flight luggage. If you DO NOT need your checked bags you can leave them there for five days. This could help travelers save time IF you know your next flight info and are confident it will depart and don’t need anything essential in your checked bags.

This was not our case. We had to get our checked bags back and I am so glad we did! We were rebooked for the next earliest flight out which wasn’t until the 28th. At midnight on the 26th they cancelled this rebooked flight. The next available flight wasn’t until Jan. 7th. Of course there were other options of getting close to San Diego with one or two layovers in Texas, Phoenix & Nevada but we felt the chances of one of those flights getting cancelled or delayed were very VERY high (not suitable for the patience of a 15mo old - our daughter/travel companion).

Between the 25th-27th when we still thought our flight on the 28th would happen we started to look into car rentals - almost everything was already sold out and this sounded like a horrible last resort option. Finally when we found out our flight was cancelled ALL CAR RENTALS WERE FULLY BOOKED FOR DAYS! at all locations within 60 miles around us. Even with the car rental reservation there is no guarantee a car will be available - another lesson we learned the morning of the 27th. Thankfully we had family that let us borrow a car to drive out to CA with a carseat for our daughter. If we weren’t given this lifeline we would have had to drive home on the 28th through a fairly bad snowstorm which is now hitting the Southwest.

We drove 13 hours straight home to San Diego. It could have been a lot worse especially with a VERY active 15mo old…nonetheless, I will do nearly anything to avoid ever having to do this again.

Now that I’ve shared our long travel woes (and I am certain we are not the only travelers suffering this holiday season) here are some of the key things we learned from previous sits, sitting and now extreme travel delays.

  1. When we chose our sitters we discussed with them at length if they would be somewhat flexible with timing/dates with our sit knowing ahead of time there might be the possibility of flight delays. This was a HUGE life saver as they ended up staying another 24hrs with our dog as we juggled trying to get back home getting a friend/family to cover the rest of the time until we got home.

  2. Had travel flexibility not been discussed during our video chat we would have been in a terrible situation as our dog cannot be boarded in a kennel. For both HO’s and Sitters always discuss travel flexibility especially if sitter is not local and has a hard stop on departure. HO’s if you prefer to have a lot of travel flexibility you may want to look for more local sitters.

  3. We had planned for 24 hr contingency with our sitters but in this post-COVID travel era - asking if your sitter(s) have 2-3 day flexibility before or after should be discussed particularly for sits around peak travel times like the holidays.

  4. Homeowners - Make sure to have 1-3 back up options for your pet especially if your pet cannot be boarded. Make sure to reach out to those back up contacts before the sit as an extra measure of preparedness. It can cause a lot of anxiety for all parties involved if (emergency contacts or back up sitters) don’t know they are even listed as an emergency contact.

  5. Discuss handover procedure with sitters before departure in the situation that you (the HO) may not be home and your backup friend/family/neighbor will now be taking over sitting responsibilities.

  6. Last and most importantly - HO’s make sure your sitters know how much it means to you to know your pet is in good/trusting hands when plans fall through. In our six years using THS this has been the worst delay in getting home and as stressful as this whole ordeal was it was such a relief knowing our boy Zorro and our home were being well looked after and he was going to be okay even if we weren’t in the best situation. Sitters - please know that although you may not be paid for the work that you do sitting for our beloved pets, I hope you feel the deepest gratitude from the pets that you love/care for from their families because the service you provide especially when times get rough is PRICELESS.

  7. In summary - Being transparent from the start with your sitter is essential. Going over the plan and back up plans, being good communicators and giving each other grace (because we are not in control over travel delays/cancellations) is the best way to make sure that everyone involved in this process has the best possible outcome.

I hope that some of you can learn from our very chaotic past few days and in turn have even more successful sits and happy travels.


@Kelly-Moderator firstly we are so very glad that you are safely back home in San Diego with Zorro.

Having spoken to you in the car at the start of your return journey I know how concerned you were at getting back for him and at the length of journey for your little one … what a relief.

Thank you for taking the time to share your story and for the advice on being prepared for the unexpected because we simply never know what challenges life may throw up, some much greater than others, some far more unexpected … such as a once in a lifetime winter storm.

Thank you again and welcome home :blush:

Travel safely everyone.


Thanks for sharing you experience. Laughed a bit at the auto-correct in your first paragraph putting in “lesions” for lessons - but maybe auto-correct knows what you really meant.
Last New Years I ended up extending a sit for an extra day when the HOs had their flights cancelled. Was happy that I could and will always try to help out when I can.
But you do point out some things to talk and the need for some resourcefulness.
Take care.


In Europe, we have our fair share of travel chaos too, between flight cancellations, public transport strikes and car rental prices that are through the roof!

You are right about building a buffer of flexibility in. It avoids a lot of stress for the owner knowing that their pets won’t be left alone or put into a kennel. For sitters it avoids the guilt of having to leave the pet with somebody else.

On our previous sit, the owner was delayed for 2 days. We had another sit booked, but luckily we are sitting as a couple, so one of us headed to the next sit while the other stayed on.

If we are flying, we like to arrive at least 1 day before the sit starts; in case of posdible disruptions.


Gosh @Kelly-Moderator Quite an ordeal!!
Thank you for sharing your experience and advice for future owners and sitters.
I am so pleased everything worked out in the end and you are safely back at home. :smile: :paw_prints:

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This should be a pinned post & always available; such a valuable lesson that I’m sorry you had to go through @Kelly-Moderator.

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yes absolutely agree! When we sit we too like to arrive a day before to get the lay of the land and likewise that’s what we prefer when choosing our sitters. Since COVID we’ve been using more local sitters just because travel and the rampant various illnesses going around have caused so many travel delays/cancellations this past year. We thought we were flexible before and now it’s taken it to a whole new meaning.


thank you for the sympathies it certainly was a challenging 48 hours

What an ordeal you’ve had. Definitely very wise though for there always to be some kind of contingency plan in place when it comes to pet care.

I no longer have a car so have been reliant on trains for travelling to and from sits. There were so many strikes as well as cancellations last year in the UK, which made getting to sits and then home again something of a nightmare. It somehow always came together in the end and the home owners were never let down but boy, was I pretty frazzled at times by the time I got back to my home, which was often far later than planned!

OH MY what an ordeal!! And with a 15 month old to boot! Yikes.
These are great tips and reminders. Thanks for posting.
As sitters who have been doing back-to-back sits, I agree having a plan B is important. The HO’s who are expecting us on time are equally important to us as those for whom we are currently sitting -
We mostly sit as a couple so if it ever was needed, we could divide and conquer as well but everyone needs to keep the expense of that in mind. One of us may need to rent a car, hire an expensive uber, for example, or change our flights, etc.
Delays have not happened to us thus far, thankfully.
If HO’s are asking sitters to be flexible and have a buffer, this could also mean them needing to book a hotel in between sits or even turn down potential sits.
Lots to keep in mind for everyone involved.