This collection of airline common sense solutions have all been used by travelers over the years. They come from a book, Travel Rights, that is being issued in its 3rd Edition in late July, and by the chapter on TravelersUnited.org starting in early July. Hopefully, these kinds of suggestions will help in stressful situations.
All airlines do not follow these common sense rules, but many do. Asking politely for help is always recommended. Sometimes, airlines will surprise even the most jaded travelers.
Suggestions for anyone running late for a connection:
If a flight is late and the connection at the next airport is in jeopardy, tell a flight attendant while you are in flight or let the gate agent know if you are still at the gate. Some airlines will make arrangements to take you by car or van between terminals, or use small electric carts that can get passengers to their gate much faster than they can get there walking. Tweet about your problem with the airline. If there are enough late connecting passengers, airlines may delay connecting flights.
While on the airplane, check the in-flight magazine for a diagram of the airport where the aircraft will be deplaning. The flight attendant or a web connection to the airline website can help find out the arrival gate and that of any connecting flight. Knowing the layout of the airport can help passengers move a bit faster.
As soon as one gets off the plane, let a customer service agent know about the connection problem. They often have radios or cellular phones and will call ahead to the gate to let the boarding personnel know other passengers are on their way. The boarding crew also are in contact with the electric carts scooting between gates.
Suggestions for anyone dealing with a predicted snowstorm or severe weather:
If a flight turns out to be scheduled on the same day as a predicted snowstorm or other major weather problem, check with the airline to find out whether or not it is permitted to fly out on standby status the day before the snowstorm, or delay departure for a couple of days. Even if the telephone agent can’t give an answer, head to the airport. Most airline airport personnel are happy to get as many passengers out of their hair before the predicted cancellations and delays. I learned from one airline, operating from Boston before a predicted one-foot snowstorm, that all penalties and charges for changing all categories of tickets had been suspended for three days in order to ease the crunch at the airport during the storm.
If passengers can not get the airline to change a ticket on the phone or via the airline website, as a last resort, head to the airport. The gate agents have much more flexibility than any phone operator. If passengers still cannot get out on the day before a storm, head to the airport early on the day of your flight. There will be more opportunities to fly “standby” on an earlier flight. This way, passengers have a much better chance to take off before the airport closes or flights become hopelessly delayed.
Suggestions for anyone changing a nonrefundable or special-fare ticket:
Airlines often will allow passengers to change a ticket from one local airport to another without a charge. For instance, during a trip travelers may find that it is easier to fly to JFK rather than to Newark; or from Manchester, NH, rather than Boston. If flights are “wide open,” airlines may help out. Make these changes at the airline special services desk or by phone. There is normally no charge. However, make sure to have any arrangements in writing before heading to the new departure airport. If a passenger shows up without a properly changed ticket, the airline may charge them the one-way fare back home.
Never pay for anything at the airport thinking that writing a letter to the customer service department will get money refunded later. Once the airlines have a passenger’s money, rarely will they return any. If travelers are told one thing by a telephone agent or on the Web, and another when they arrive at the airport, find a supervisor and sort out any confusion and necessary payments on the spot.
AIRPORT TIP: If passengers have to spend the night at an airport at their own expense, see if the airline customer service representative will call and get a Distressed Passenger Rate, or ask the hotel manager (decision maker) for it.
If it is important, fly early
Compensation is required by law only when passengers are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold. Airlines almost always refuse to pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight.
If the purpose of a trip is to close a potentially lucrative business deal, give a speech or lecture, attend a family function, or connect to a cruise, passengers might want to allow a little extra leeway and take an earlier flight. In other words, airline delays and cancellations aren’t unusual, and defensive planning is a good idea when time is the most important consideration. These are airline common sense solutions.