(Photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via Unsplash.)
When we consider all the all-too-vexing vexations of modern flight, from tight seats to long security lines, we tend to forget that flying has only recently been a means of transportation for the masses.
For most of its existence as a paying concern, flying has been reserved for the upper-middle-class and up. In fact, flights to Europe in the ‘60s and ‘70s cost about what they cost now – only in ‘60s and ‘70s dollars, which had about seven times the buying power of modern dollars. The flight that cost $750 in 1968 would cost more than $5,300 today. Of course, back then you got an in-flight omelet, so that evens things out a bit.
Because flying has never been less expensive, flight issues like flight delays and cancelled flights affect more travelers, and more kinds of travelers. If you’re one of the many travelers who find your flight cancelled or your trip delayed, here are some tips and tricks to help you deal with missed connections, delayed flights and flight cancellations:
Book flights that leave early in the day. This is especially true if weather is a concern. Planes are a lot like delivery trucks, only they carry people, have wings, and serve tomato juice in the back. The first delivery of the day almost always comes off on time. After that, things can happen and deliveries can get backed up. Sometimes the truck breaks down or gets caught in traffic, and when that happens, deliveries don’t happen on schedule. And if another truck is waiting for that truck to make its deliveries before the second truck can make its … well, it becomes a mess, that’s all. You want to be that first delivery of the day, so book early flights, get to the airport early, and be ready to go. If you're particularly ambitious you might want to try one of Southwest's many flights that leave before 6 a.m.
Install an airline’s app on your phone. If you have a smartphone, download the app(s) of the airline(s) you’ll be using on your trip – and then actually use the app. Sign in and/or create an account, use it to check in, and have the airline track your flights for you. If it looks like you’ll be dealing with a delayed or cancelled flight, contact customer service via the app (and see below for more on this). Have your boarding pass right on your phone. Believe us: Once you try it this way you’ll never go back to paper boarding passes.
Get to a gate agent or ticketing ASAP. It’s not a cliché to say that every second counts when your flight is delayed or cancelled. You want to be polite and kind and courteous and as Midwestern nice as you can be, but you also want to be in the front of that line. Get to a gate or a ticket agent fast and start the ticket rebooking process. If you have a travel partner, you might want to divide and conquer – one goes to ticketing while the other waits for the gate agent. Stay in touch via text.
Don’t rely solely on the gate agent or ticketing. Here’s how to get the best and fastest flight rebooking: Get in line at the terminal while you’re calling customer service and/or webchatting with a different customer-service rep. Remember what we said about being the front of the line; do you think the line is just the physical line? Absolutely not. In the case of widespread flight delays, cancellations and missed connections – Winter Storm Evelyn, let’s say – people all over the country will be trying to get onto the same flight as you. Working multiple angles is the best way to get to the front of that national/international line. Which reminds us: Some people we know have had great luck calling an airline’s overseas or international customer-service number for a domestic flight issue. The international agents are sometimes less busy and more willing to spend time working the angles.
Leverage your position. If you have elite status with an airline, use it. If you have a platinum credit card, leverage their resources. If you have lounge access, see if the agent inside the lounge can help. You’ve spent a lot of money over the years buying the friendship of a credit-card company and an airline. Now it’s time to call in a few favors.
Or not. If you’re the people who don’t have to be any specific place by any certain time, use that status to your advantage. Be the people who volunteer to get bumped – but only after holding out for the best possible offer. Actually, when everyone around you is stressing over their connections and business meetings and so on, there is great power in being the person who is willing to let events unfold and get there when you get there. Sometimes, it’s far better than all the platinum status in the world.
Be nice to people. If you have no platinum credit cards or frequent-flyer status or even an airline app, you have yourself, and that may just be enough. We know of a traveler who doesn’t have any sort of status whatsoever, but whenever there’s a flight mishap he sails through. How? He takes the gate agent a sandwich and says with a smile, “Hey, looks like you’re really slammed. Thought you could use this.” That costs a lot less than a million frequent-flyer miles, and it makes everyone happier.
Get flight insurance. Quite a few insurance plans have some missed connection coverage. However, outside of our ExactCare Extra® and AirCare® plans, most travel insurance coverage for missed connections, flight delays and cancellations consists of reimbursement for expenses you incur as a result of the missed connection or flight delay. So save those receipts! However, the other aspect of travel insurance many travelers overlook is the 24/7 emergency travel assistance. It’s invaluable in a missed-connection scenario, because the travel assistance can work to get you rebooked while you’re working to get yourself rebooked. Travel-assistance specialists do this sort of thing all the time, so they’re great at it. If you’re feeling like the hassle of rebooking is beyond you, they’re a powerful asset to have on your side.
All the leverage in the world can’t change the fact that a missed connection, a flight delay, or a flight cancellation is a miserable thing to have to deal with. But getting it resolved and sitting in that airplane seat, no matter how narrow it may be? That’s a wonderful feeling.
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