I once heard a saying years ago.. “your true self is exposed when you come head-on with an issue at an airport.” Hopefully, this isn’t true. That would confirm that, well, my true self isn’t that pretty. Some would consider it down right crazy. Whose with me?! Over the last seven years I’ve gone back and forth from California to my family’s house on the East Coast. Days filled with domestic and international work travel, and the best kind of travel – just for fun. I’ve literally seen it all when it comes to having flights delayed, cancelled, derailed, and, yes, even being told I’d be stuck for eight days (insert ugly crying here). Dealing with flight and transportation delays is the not-so-pretty side of frequent traveling that not many people talk about. You won’t see a travel blogger posting an iPhone picture eating Chex Mix on an airport floor, but you will see the ocean front beach chair that took her three days to arrive to. You have to take the good with the bad, friends. Even though most don’t show this not-so-pretty side behind their beautiful Instagram photos at the beach the next morning, I’m hear to tackle it! My top tips on how to deal below.
I mentioned in my first post from the Amalfi Coast that our already 14-hour itinerary from San Francisco-Paris-Naples turned into a nightmare-ish 25 hour travel day. Or, don’t remind me how my Thanksgiving flight to the east coast two years ago was cancelled while boarding, and I spent the next 15 minutes booking the last seat on the next flight to Boston, on the dirty ground of the airport, from, get this, a different airport in the same city, then waiting for my bags to be returned to me, spending $150 on Ubers between airports, and paying over $1k for a one-way middle seat, just so I’d be able to make it home to spend the holiday with my family. Don’t remind my boyfriend about the time last January when we were told we’d be stuck on the east coast for eight days, and had to drive five hours to the other *nearest* airport in order to get the last 5am flight out before a big nor’easter hit. That sudden flight purchase for two adults is something I’d like to forget hitting my bank account! These stories are just scratching the surface of disastrous, pricey, and miserable travel day(s) I’ve experienced. That said, travel is so beyond special to me, and I’m sure you too if you’re reading this, that we push through and learn the best way to handle things when they go very, very wrong.
Know your rights:
- Make sure to understand the rules of your carrier of choice. You’d be surprised how greatly they differ. Some examples:
- Southwest change fees are free, as long as the fair is the same, while most airlines charge $250 per change, plus the difference in fair
- My personal favorite, Rule 420, which requires the airline to transfer travelers to another carrier if they are offering a sooner available flight. This rule is only valid if the cancelled or delayed flight was not incurred by acts of god, like bad weather
- Another useful law while traveling in the EU – European Union Regulation (EC) 261/2004. This rule states common rules on compensation for passengers that have experienced long travel delays, or cancellations. This rule is much more more generous than any carrier rules in the United States. I recently referenced this for our Italy trip (mentioned above), after experiencing a missed connection, which incurred a nine hour layover on an already long trip duration. No joke, the airline had to compensate me for the price of the flight, even though I booked through miles. It almost made that terrible day worth the $700 check, almost.
- If you come across an issue while traveling, a quick Google search will lead you to the company’s rules for cancellations, deferred flights, and any other issue you’re facing. Knowing this information will help you communicate with airport attendants, and most likely aid you in getting compensation for your troubles, get you on another carrier free of charge, or more vouchers to use while stuck in whatever city you don’t want to be in. Of course, always follow up with customer service online and place a complaint after your trip. You don’t ask, you don’t get.
Research your options: My go-to on any given day that I’m planning a trip for work or play is Google Flights. It’s also incredibly helpful while booking or re-booking in a pinch. You can filter the site to show multiple different nearby airports, pick exact departure, arrival, and trip duration times, and filter exact airlines or travel class. Then, you can easily compare multiple different carrier prices and times.
Track flights 1-2 days before departure: Since I live in San Francisco, I fly out of both Oakland International and San Francisco International. If I’m booked on a flight leaving from SFO that week, I’ll track it 1-2 days before. If that same flight was delayed or cancelled a few times that week, I’ll try to switch my flight to the other nearby airport. Note: I usually fly Southwest for domestic travel, which makes this tactic easy.
Pick your airport wisely: If I really need to get somewhere the day of travel, whether it be for a meeting, wedding, or holiday, I usually plan to fly out of the biggest airport in my city. That way, if my flight is cancelled, I’ll at least have many more options on other carriers than I would at a smaller airport.
Lounges: When all else fails, head to the nearest lounge! These days, lounges aren’t just for the first class travelers. Many popular credit card companies provide lounge access all around the world. Priority Pass is offered for Chase Reserve users for free, which gets you into tons of lounges in airports all over the world, and even free meals at some airport restaurants. At SFO, the Air France Lounge is complimentary for Priority Pass users. Amex also has their famous Centurion lounges in many large airports, and there are tons of other lounges that are offered for Amex Platinum users. I love the using mine at the Escape Lounge in Oakland. We all know I never say no to free champagne…