Getting from point-to-point, our seasoned traveler Susan has hit just about every hitch. Happily she’s decided to fill us in, so we don’t have to learn the hard way …
It is certainly not news that airplane travel is no longer glamorous. Yet, for many of us, there is the undeniable lure and excitement of going to distant places. And for others, traveling just needs a practical solution for getting from point-to-point. Regardless, planes are almost always full to capacity, largely because airlines have reduced schedules in response to the economic downturn. Since then, more people are traveling, with fewer choices. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to be prepared for any and all problems you may encounter en-route. Here are some defensive strategies to help you out if . . .
YOUR FLIGHT IS CANCELLED:
If you have not left for the airport: Immediately call your airline’s reservation desk and get rebooked (if you have booked via a travel agent, he/she can also rebook you).
If you are at the airport: Immediately head for the Customer Service desk (or airline lounge if you have entry) and at the same time call the airline’s reservation desk or travel agent to get rebooked. When you get to the front of the line, the agent will change your ticket/boarding pass accordingly. Do not wait until you are at the front of the line to take action“ by then the best options will be gone.
If you are already on the plane: Deplane as fast as possible (do not knock anyone over in the process though!), and follow the same instructions as above. Keep your boarding pass handy or you will be sunk.
YOUR FLIGHT HAS A WEATHER OR MECHANICAL DELAY
If you have not left for the airport: Proceed there based upon your original departure time. Airlines have the right to amend the delay time to an earlier one if weather improves or repairs can be done quicker, sometimes at a moment’s notice.
If you are at the airport: Stay close to your gate or closely watch nearby monitors. Do not get caught on the other side of the airport and end up missing your flight. Remember that announcements outside the gate area are rarely made these days.
YOU HAVE A CONNECTING FLIGHT:
When booking, allow plenty of time between connections: This is especially important if an overseas flight is involved. Note that most booking sites, including the airline’s own, will show tight connections as recommended routing“ override these selections and pick longer connecting times.
IMPORTANT: Just because a connecting flight is shown with the same flight number as your originating one, does not mean that the aircraft is the same or that the connecting flight will wait for you. Quite the opposite“ the connecting flight will leave before you arrive if your outbound flight is delayed.
You have a delay at the airport with your originating flight: Have the customer service representative rebook your connection for a later time, immediately“ do not wait until you get to the connecting airport to deal with the problem. Remember you can call the airline’s reservation desk and/or your travel agent for help with this as well. If it is possible to still make your connection, but it’s tight, ask the airline to protect you on a later connection, without canceling your existing one.
YOU ARE STRANDED AT AIRPORT DUE TO FLIGHT CANCELLATION:
If the problem is caused by the airline, such as a mechanical issue, then it is their problem to help you out“ ask for hotel and/or meal vouchers. If the problem is weather-related you are on your own.
YOUR SEAT ASSIGNMENT CHANGED FROM WHAT YOU RESERVED (which can happen almost anytime due to an aircraft change):
If you have not yet checked in: Look at the seating map online and see if there are any other better choices and keep on doing so until departure time.
If you are at the airport: Ask the gate agent for a better seat. He/she will hold onto your boarding ticket to see what comes up. “ but may only be able to release seats 20 minutes prior to departure. Only caveat: Others may start boarding before you, taking up valuable overhead storage space.
If you find yourself onboard, traveling with a partner, but seats are not together: If above strategies fail, ask seat mates to switch“ nicely! Fellow travelers are surprisingly sympathetic“ they, too, have been in similar situations.
ALWAYS BE PREPARED:
Sign up for your airline’s notification system so that you will receive email and/or cell phone alerts as changes, cancellations, etc. occur. Often these alerts precede what shows on the airport monitors.
Carry a copy of your airline’s schedule showing alternate/later flights for the day you are traveling, or download it to your mobile device. Handy if you require rebooking, as you can make knowledgeable requests. Asking to be switched to another airline is problematic these days, but doing so with a partner airline will usually work, so know to which alliance your airline belongs.
Carry something to eat — protein bars, some mixed nuts, etc. — as there is no point having to run around the airport dizzy and lightheaded with hunger. This is also important once you are on the plane“ be it on time or delayed for any reason. (If your plane is delayed at the gate there will be no beverage or food service until you are in the air.) Also note that empty water bottles can go through security and be refilled on the boarding side of the airport.
AND REMEMBER THE MOST IMPORTANT THING:
Always be nice to the airline representative who is helping you“ especially in person, but also on the phone. This person did not cause the delay/problem, and is probably being yelled at by everyone in the line. The representative may actually bend over backwards for you if he/she feels at least a bit appreciated!
Here’s hoping you won’t have to deal with any of the above situations! And please share your defensive travel strategies with us, too.