US Airways jet at the gate at PHL

Last month, I was on a 10 a.m. flight to Los Angeles. We left the gate late, and when we got to the taxi-way we were well down in the queue. More than 40 minutes later we arrived at the top of the line.

Our captain started the Airbus A320 powering down the runway, but soon we felt our bodies lurch forward, and heard the screech of brakes and the roar of the thrust reversers as our take-off was rudely aborted. Moments later, returning to the gate, the captain explained we lost rudder steering.

US Airways decided to try to repair the steering. We were to report back to the gate at 12:15 p.m. By 12:45 p.m., we knew it was going to be a long day when the flight crew disembarked the plane. Just a few minutes later the flight was canceled.

The rush to rebook started and the line at US Airways’ Customer Service was almost 130 passengers long.

Sometimes having preferred status with an airline, from flying on them often, pays off. Like several other passengers, I immediately called the US Airways Service Center. After about 15 very long minutes, my wife and I were booked on the US Airways 6 p.m. direct, non-stop flight to Los Angeles. We even got exit row seating.

As is typical of canceled flights, we were told our checked luggage wouldn’t be available until we arrived in Los Angeles. It was to be waiting for us in the baggage claim office when we arrived.

We were fortunate. As nearly all the LA bound flights were already booked close to capacity, most of our fellow passengers were rebooked on flights which flew to Los Angeles after connecting to them in Charlotte or Phoenix. More than a few passengers, apparently, couldn’t be rebooked to arrive in Los Angeles until the following day.

While waiting in the US Airways lounge we thought back to a much worse delay we encountered when flying out of London’s Heathrow Airport. Our flight that day was delayed about 24 hours due to fog. We slept overnight in the terminal.

Arriving at the gate, we met passengers we recognized from our original flight, who ended up sitting next to us. While waiting to board, we talked about what items we thought everyone should have with them in their carry-on, or personal item, in case of delays, problems or just to make flights as pleasant as possible.

Here are a few of the essentials we all carry with us when flying for business or leisure, domestically or internationally.

1. Keep all prescription and other important medication in carry-ons, as checked luggage could be delayed or lost. If traveling domestically, it takes time to have new prescriptions written and filled. When traveling internationally, it’s often hard to replace many prescription medications. If you take medication regularly, or just periodically, at least take a several day supply in your carry-on.

Warning: Especially if a medication is “restricted,” pack it in its original container with the full prescription label on it, so that government officials won’t question whether or not the drug is illegal.

2. Pack any toilet articles you consider essential for travel in your carry-on. On a flight home from Buenos Aires last year, well before we landed, the toilet paper and towel dispensers were empty. Flight attendants gave out napkins. That’s not the first time it’s happened to me. I always carry a couple of travel size toilet paper rolls in my carry-on, plus a non-woven towel.

3. Think food. I don’t know how you feel about airline food, but I find on most airlines, the food in any class seat, or for sale on the plane, isn’t very good. Whether it’s food from home, a hotel, or a good local or airport restaurant, we take our own food with us on our flights, if at all possible. We also take snacks like granola or trail mix, plus bottled beverages. (At some international airports, beverages are not permitted to be taken on US bound flights.)

4. Stay warm. Quite often, airplane cabins can be chilly, especially on night flights, when many sleep. Few passengers get blankets to use these days, so I make sure I always have a warm-up jacket to wear when the cabin’s too cold. I also pack a neck pillow, sleep mask and ear plugs.

5. Bring entertainment. Generally the in-flight entertainment offered on planes, if any, isn’t very fresh or good. How many times can you see old Seinfeld episodes, or The Closer, or the latest “B” grade movies? With carry-on limitations, and all the other items you bring on board, a stack of magazines and books isn’t a great option either.

For passing the time in airports and in-flight, I bring a tablet for entertainment, email, web access and reading, plus a noise canceling headset. On my tablet I store videos, books, music, and even some good games. I bring a portable battery to recharge it for long flights, and a multi-plug adapter when flying internationally for airport and hotel use.

6. A change of clothes. Accidents and spills can happen when in-flight, and checked luggage can get lost or delayed. I carry a complete change of clothes in my carry-on in case of those problems.