It’s 1 a.m. when we know for sure that the plane isn’t going to take off. Not tonight. We’ve been sitting on the runway for hours, and after a maintenance problem that turned out to be nothing and the jet refueling guys that never showed, we’re heading back to the gate.

The bureaucratic tap dance we then endure -- rebooking our flight (that won’t leave until the next afternoon), attempting to locate our luggage (unsuccessfully), trying to book an airport hotel (also unsuccessfully) -- leaves us grumpy. After the umpteenth frustrating customer service encounter, I start to get slightly hysterical. Despite making my living as a travel expert, it turns out I am not always a good traveler.

Countless travelers have found themselves in just this situation and can well relate to the misery. Mere hours after falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle in Costa Rica, somehow, inexplicably, my husband and I find ourselves sleeping in Miami International Airport under harsh fluorescent lights. (We would have preferred to crash in a South Beach hotel overlooking the ocean, but alas, it wasn't in the budget.) He is wearing his Panama hat with a macaw feather tucked in the brim, a souvenir from our trip. I am wearing a Miami sweatshirt that I bought in a gift shop, because my spaghetti strap maxi dress isn’t enough to combat the airport chill. After hours of travel -- unwashed, bleary-eyed, and now sprawled across the airport chairs like hobos -- we must look like quite the pair.

Upon finally arriving back in New York City, I decide to investigate just how often things go so awry -- and what, if anything, passengers can do to prepare themselves. I want to know everything -- which airlines are the worst, which airports are the worst, what compensation customers can expect, and what they’re legally entitled to. Of course travel won’t always go smoothly, but it’s always possible to increase your odds that it will, and to respond intelligently when it doesn’t. 

The result of my findings, I hope, will be your ultimate survival guide to a delayed or canceled flight.