When it comes to airline delays, human travel advisors/agents will still beat technology

When you have problems during airline travels, find a person to help you rather than depending on technology

Travel advisors/agentsMy client had a business class ticket to Paris from Newark, which meant the trip should have been a pleasure. Even with delays due to bad weather in New York, the plane was only an hour late. At first. Starting as a mechanical issue on the tarmac, it soon became apparent the airline needed more time to fix this non-trivial problem. This appeared to be a problematic airline delay.
She emailed me early in the delay process, and I noticed two seats left the following day, so I held one. After a couple of hours, the flight returned to the gate, and United soon announced they had another plane. The new flight would not be ready until midnight, East Coast time. To make a long story short, the second plane boarded, went out to the tarmac and had mechanical issues. When plane number two returned to the gate, it was almost 3 a.m., and the crew had timed out. Which meant the travelers weren’t going anywhere. This was indeed a problematic airline delay.
My client had dozed off and was not one of the first off the plane when she collected her things. She told me United told them they had to get in line to get their ticket reissued. And, in the middle of the night, only a couple of airline agents were around to help.
(A side note: Many airline computers must sync reservations and tickets. I have learned that having a reservation on a flight that wasn’t ticketed for that flight means the reservation can and will be canceled, usually within a few hours.)

Travel advisors/agents can help when they know the system

You are being secretly taxed at airportsAt this point, I noticed United Airlines had just added a second flight for the following day, so I grabbed a seat on that as well and called United. The first agent confirmed that because the original ticket showed used, neither United nor I, as a travel agent, could reissue it, and she would indeed need to get in line. I politely hung up and called back. The second agent was friendly but indicated the same thing. As nicely as I could, I informed her that wasn’t workable. It was now well after 3 a.m., and passengers had been at the airport for 11 hours. Moreover, our agency is a big United producer. My client had an expensive ticket, paid business class, and surely there was SOME solution.

After a few long minutes, the second agent talked to her supervisor and said they figured out a way to make an exception. She asked which flight the next day we wanted — I chose the new second flight because it was leaving earlier, and United then somehow reissued the ticket. So my client was finally able to go home and get some sleep before returning. She mentioned as she left, “The line was REALLY long.”

United’s added flight was uneventful. Fortunately, the initially scheduled flight the following day was 2-1/2 hours late.
Now, as this went, nothing I did was rocket science, but it does illustrate the power of persistence. It shows the limits of technology. A traveler without a travel agent could have called United directly and possibly done the same thing, especially if they got someone helpful. But some situations just can’t be fixed online or with a kiosk.

Good travel advisors/agents have seen hundreds of different complications.

In this case, the extra complications were threefold:

  • First, the new flight, which United created to deal with the stranded passengers, didn’t show up in regular availability.
  • Second, airline clubs were closed when the plane was finally canceled in the middle of the night, and the airport had very few employees around to help.
  • Finally, and most importantly, because the plane had departed — twice — the computer figured passengers had flown already, and you cannot exchange a used ticket. Eventually, the supervisor, or someone, could finally change the ticket status back to “open.” Then it was relatively easy for the airline to adjust it for the following day. In some way, the details matter less than the fact that travel gets more complicated than programmers may have planned on.

The short moral of this long story? When things get difficult, get human travel advisors/agents involved. If you don’t have a travel agent, look for the shortest line possible. When the line is over a few people long, get on the phone as soon as possible. (If you have enough status for a preferred airline phone number, make sure you have that number.)

Join Us for Cybersecurity BenefitsWhen you reach a human, if someone seems unhelpful, I never have a problem apologizing, saying it’s a bad connection or something, then I hang up. (Don’t be rude — airline people can and WILL document your record in ways you don’t want.) And, when you get someone helpful, be politely persistent. Almost anything airport agents can do, phone agents can do as well. This is a secret when calling about problematic airline delays.

Talking to a human will always help, it seems.

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Even if travelers decide to wait in line for an actual boarding pass, talking to travel advisors/agents or a phone agent increases your chances of getting on the flight. Every minute of waiting adds more time. Other fliers dealing with the same problematic airline delay can outmaneuver the patient passenger while chasing the same solutions. Nothing personal, but some people are going to be stranded for days. You don’t want to be one of them.

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