Credit: Tara Donne

“Operator, please connect me to customer service.” “The first thing you should do is call the airline, even while you’re waiting in line to be rerouted,” says Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge, an air-traveler assistance firm. “This way, you’re essentially cutting the line in front of you.” To expedite the rebooking process at the major airlines, keep these numbers in your wallet (click here for a downloadable version):

American Airlines: 800-433-7300
Continental Airlines: 800-525-0280
Delta: 800-221-1212
JetBlue Airways: 800-538-2583
United Airlines: 800-241-6522
US Airways: 800-428-4322

“Can I get you a sandwich?” If the phone lines are jammed and you do have to speak to someone in person, “don’t forget that ticket agents have been doing this all day, and many haven’t had a break,” says Snyder, who says that offering a sandwich or coffee can help differentiate you from other demanding customers.

“What about Rule 240?” No longer an actual rule, this term refers to the airlines’ “contract of carriage.” Terms vary among airlines, but “most major airlines have to take your ticket and endorse it toward the next available flight, even if it’s a competitor’s,” says Peter Greenberg, author of Tough Times, Great Travel ($4, One caveat: You can’t take advantage of this if you checked bags.