It’s the Holiday season, and for many of us, that means schlepping across the state, country, or planet to spend time with our loved ones. While Holiday Traffic is one thing, Holiday air travel is a whole different (expensive) affair, which often goes astray. Sometimes things happen – storms, acts of god, people not setting their alarm and starting a domino effect that sets the whole airline off by a few hours for part of the day – and we need to be prepared when these things happen, so here are 25 Useful Tips For When Airlines Mess Up Your Travel Plans.
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Find out why your travel plans have been changed.
Odds are you’ll know this, but just so we’re really clear, you have fewer options if your destination is in the middle of a record breaking ice storm than you do if, say, the airline overbooked your flight.
Find out if you've been re-booked.
Once you find out that your flight plans have been changed, go online to see if you’ve been automatically re-booked. Yep, it’s a thing some airlines do, particularly if you check in online.
Call Customer Service
If you weren’t automatically re-booked online, call customer service. Or heck, do this while you’re checking online because everyone else who was on that flight that you’re also not on is going to be calling customer service or fighting to speak with the gate attendant / airline representative.
Always be kind to any and all airline employees, regardless of your situation. They’re doing their best to help you. Their job is to help you. They did not create whatever situation it is that changes your plans, and odds are it’s just as stressful for them. Be patient, be kind. Screaming or cursing at them is just not okay, ever. We all, though, have the ability to be that person when we’re stressed and helpless. So no judgement, just a reminder.
Read the fine print.
Read the fine print that comes with your ticket ahead of time, so you’re prepared. Most airlines have slightly different policy for when things go wrong and what you can expect. These are usually found on an airline’s website under “Contract of Carriage.”
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Be on time!
The unspoken rule of flight is kind of like that of a doctor’s appointment; if you’re thirty seconds late, you may be out of luck for hours, but they can run hours behind, and it’s just to be expected. (And yet in both cases we’re paying them for their services, hmm…) Should you miss your flight, immediately go to the airline’s desk at the airport. They already know you weren’t on that flight when the cabin door was closed and will possibly be able to get you on the next flight to your destination. Again, this varies by airline, and they’re not OBLIGATED in any way to do so, unless you miss a connecting flight due to your first flight running late, so you may have to pay extra.
Have the airline track your baggage.
If you miss a connecting flight, have your airline track down your baggage. They may be able to hold it for your until you get to your destination instead of it getting lost in the black hold of “unclaimed baggage.” This is why you should pack an extra pair of underwear and medications in your carry-on.
Find out if you are entitled to cash compensation.
Should your travel plans be changed due to overbooking, and you’re in the US or EU, you may be entitled to cash compensation from the airline. Yes, really. As well as a meal voucher and hotel room stay, depending on when the airline can get you on another flight. But again, be kind to your gate attendant or customer service rep because they sometimes have power to choose the hotel you get stuck in overnight, and as one person reported on reddit, might even keep you company at dinner.
Ask your airline if they can get you on a flight with another airline, and what, if any, the cost would be to you. This usually works best if your plans were changed due to fault of the airline – mechanical failure, overbooking – as they’re required to get you on the next available flight.
Ask for better accommodations.
You can also ask (again politely and with all respect) for better accommodations than Jim Bob’s Motel 3 if that’s what you’re offered. The answer may be a firm “no,” but it’s always worth asking.
Pack irreplaceables on your carry-on.
Lost luggage is absolutely a holiday bummer, particularly if there were gifts in said luggage. If it’s truly not able to be found, the amount that the airline is going to pay you is generally far less than the cost of your stuff, and sometimes there are loopholes they can use to get out of paying. The good news is that most “lost luggage” is found within a day, and they have it sent to your destination or home. Truly lost luggage is rare. BUT, if there’s something you absolutely cannot lose – an antique gift, an engagement ring, vital medications – pack it in your carry-on.
You get what you pay for.
Just expect that at the busiest time of year, if you’re flying the cheapest airline possible on a deep discount super coupon code, you’re far more likely to be late or miss connections. Some discount airlines had less than 50% of flights arriving on time in summer of 2015. There’s nothing wrong with cheap airline tickets, and I’m sure mom would rather see you three hours late than not at all, but if you’re going the cheapest way possible, be prepared to be flexible.
Let your people on the other end know as soon as there's a problem.
You may not have your connecting flight set up, or you may even be in line waiting to talk to someone at the airline, but give whomever is expecting you a quick, “Hey, I’m going to be getting in later than expected; I will let you know something as soon as I do,” that way they can schedule their day accordingly. Or sleep later, which is always nice.
Remember the domino effect.
Most flights are delayed because another flight arrives late. Which means it’s late getting fueled up, and getting luggage off, and getting craft services on. So the next time you’re running late, remember the domino effect because that’s usually what happens here too.
Know your tarmac rights.
If a Domestic flight is delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours, expect it to go back to the gate. Unless there’s a safety risk or it would disrupt airport operations, a plane isn’t allowed to just sit on the tarmac full of people longer than that. And yes, they HAVE to let you use the bathroom, and legally you should be offered snacks and beverages around the two hour mark.
A note about flight attendants
Many flight attendants are only paid when the cabin doors are closed. So as much as you’re annoyed with waiting, they’re annoyed, wearing polyester, waiting, and probably not getting paid.
Consider buying trip cancellation or interruption insurance when you book your flight.
While this can be tricky because it’s more paperwork to fill out, remember that in many cases, airlines aren’t legally required to compensate you unless they specifically overbook and bump you from a flight. Depending on the insurance you buy (they are often underwritten by a third party), it can cover anything from hotel room and food reimbursement to the full cost of the ticket if the airline can’t get their stuff together, to medical expenses.
Document your issues and save receipts for any expenses you incur due to a delay or lost luggage.
There’s no guarantee submitting a copy of receipts for clothing you had to buy to wear while it took them a day to locate your luggage will be reimbursed, but sometimes it is, so you might as well take note and have proof.
Consider renting a car, if possible.
Depending on how far you have to go, and how bad the delay is, you might just be better off renting a car and driving there. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but every once in awhile, there’s nothing else for it but to drive.
Call and re-confirm your car rental.
Speaking of car rentals, if you’re flying into a busy airport, call and re-confirm your rental once you know when exactly you’ll be getting in. Sometimes, like airlines and hotels, car rental services overbook, expecting people not to show up, so if you are late, you may be out of a ride. Some companies hold your rental all day, but call and verify or read the policy carefully when you make your reservation.
Check out loungebuddy.com
If you’re stuck in an airport for say, three hours – not really long enough to leave or get a hotel room, but definitely long enough to be very bored – check out loungebuddy.com to see if you can get access to a lounge in the airport your in, and apps like Gate Guru to let you know what other amenities are available in your airport. There may be basically a full shopping mall on the other side of the airport, but you wouldn’t know.
Charge your phone.
If your travel plans have suddenly changed, it’s likely you’ve been using it for awhile trying to figure things out, so find a phone charging station or a coffee shop with a free plug before you’re that person whose cell phone is always almost dead. Many airports even have charging stations now! (Hey, they had to put something where the payphones used to be…)
Know what to do if you lose your passport.
A lost passport isn’t the fault of the airline, but it’s always worth knowing what to do if you lose yours overseas…especially during the holidays. First, contact the local police to let them know of the theft or loss, then your embassy. You’ll have to show up to your embassy in person to apply for an emergency passport to get home (apply for a new passport once home). To obtain an emergency passport, you will need a photo ID, proof of US citizenship (copy of BC or passport), travel itinerary, and a photo ID. Have these things just in case, and keep them SEPARATE from your passport when traveling. Mileage may vary for non-US travelers, so check with your local embassy.
Call those who are depending on you in event of a delay.
If your plans are delayed coming home rather than heading out, call your boss. Or dog walker, house sitter, roommate, etc. Even if your flight is only delayed 2-3 hours, it may mean the difference between you getting a good night’s sleep, and you being a zombie the next day at work.
While that may be hard to do if you’ve a child in tow or are missing something important on the other end, if you’ve done your due diligence and scheduled your next flight and/or hotel for the night, there’s nothing to do but wait, so you might as well enjoy it. If you’re traveling alone as an adult, consider this: when was the last time you had a few hours with no responsibilities to fill it other than entertaining yourself? Go see a local sight if you’re going to be there awhile, or check into your hotel and veg out on cable TV.
Photos: 25. Famartin via wikimedia commons, 23. Aqua Mechanical via Flickr, 21. Damian Gadal via Flickr, 18. 401(k) 2012 via Flickr, 17. Michael Gray via Flickr, 16. Famartin via wikimedia commons, 15. Strange Luke via Flickr, 14. Douglas P. Perkins via wikimedia commons, 12. KTo288 via wikimedia commons, 10. Oxfordian Kissuth via wikimedia commons, 7. Jonathan Brodsky via Flickr, 6. Atomic Taco via Flickr, 5. travelingotter via Flickr, 4. Chargespot via wikimedia commons,