The Basics

What Happens When Airline Delays Happen

I wrote last week about how our trip to NYC was delayed several hours due to a cancellation. We ended up arriving in NYC 8 hours later than we were supposed to originally. However, that turned out for the best since it was quite an exhausting day without having left at 6am! Not to mention, I sent a very nice e-mail (at least I thought it was very nice!) to Delta explaining what happened and just inquired if there was some way we might receive some type of compensation for the fact that our flight was so messed up. They ended up giving each of us 7,500 Skymiles (on a $120 ticket). Just a couple of quick things about this: I did not beg or threaten to leave; I would not have sent such an e-mail if it was directly related to weather as opposed to being a crew problem; I may have received such a prompt and helpful response because I an elite flyer with Delta.

Anyway, back to today. I had some airline credits and still need to requalify for Platinum for the next program year so I picked a day that I knew I could take a ton of computer/paperwork with me and do it on the plane. That day was today and the destination was Honolulu. Nice destination, huh? Except I was only going to be there for 1 hour before I returned! 🙂 I was looking forward to it as the flight was to leave today at 10AM and have me back in Rochester tomorrow at 3PM. Perfect, right? Let’s see…

I did get one of my upgrades on the Los Angeles – Detroit segment tomorrow. The Detroit to Los Angeles was not going to happen as I was 14th on the upgrade list with 5 seats available (this is the first time I have been to Los Angeles when not a Diamond – I am not used to being that far out of the running!). I had my laptop, papers and was ready to go. The first problem started when the incoming flight was delayed by 20 minutes. Normally not a big problem, but I booked the shortest possible connections because I had this limited window to fly. As such, that was going to leave me with a short (but doable) layover of 38 minutes in Detroit. We boarded quickly and the bigger problem happened then. I was in 1B and heard the captain talking with the first office about a ground stop. A ground stop occurs when there are weather conditions that make it difficult for incoming aircraft to land due to the weather or visibility. In order to prevent a parking lot from forming above the airport, they put a ground stop in place for the aircraft that has not left their respective airports for the airport in question. That means that the various aircraft (ours included) would be held at the departing gate until the traffic/weather conditions improved. When making a connection, that will typically mean that the aircraft that you are connecting to will also be held up and delayed due to not being able to land on-time. In my case, my connecting aircraft was already on the ground and ground stop does not include departing aircraft. So, my plane would still likely leave on time. At this point, the captain informed us that he would have more information for us in 45 minutes. That was going to make it impossible to make my connection, so I asked the flight attendant to let me deplane (the doors were still opened). The gate agent came back and picked me to look over my options. However, knowing that I had booked the quickest turnaround possible, I knew there would be nothing that would work. However, I did not want to be rude so I waited for him to give me my options. When he gave me my only other option (that would have me arriving in Honolulu three hours after I was supposed to have departed) I told him that wouldn’t work and that I would call Delta.

I called the Platinum line and told them my flight reservation in question. Then I uttered some magic words – trip in vain. This phrase means that, due to airline delays or misconnections, the purpose of your trip will not be able to be fulfilled. When you tell them this, they will fly you back to your original airport and refund you 100%. The one bad part is that you do not receive any miles, even for the miles you have already covered. In other words, if I had made it all the way out to Los Angeles and then missed my connection, they would have given me a flight back to Rochester and refunded my money but I would not receive 1 mile from that trip. For a trip like I was doing (for the express purpose of earning miles), that would have been VERY bad! In this case, I had not even left my original airport yet, so it was the best of a worst case. Even better was that they refunded the entire ticket price to my credit card even though I had used vouchers to pay for most of it! After 10 short minutes, the refund was processed and I was on my way out of the airport! So, now I have to still find a place in my schedule to get these miles but at least I didn’t waste a whole day because of this!

So how does this help you? I understand that the majority of you are not doing flights like this – flying strictly for miles (and those great peanuts!). However, this can apply to those of you who, like me, try to fly in as close as possible to a race to minimize time away. What could help you with that? Here are some points:

  • Try NOT to take the last flight out of your departure airport (when your race is the next morning)! I try to leave at least one flight combo between my flight and the race should my flight have a problem
  • Know your layover airports! This is helpful during this time of year with hurricanes and such. If you are going to be transiting through Charlotte with storms rolling in, it pays to know that before you book that last minute ticket, or, if you already have it, to be aware so you can find other options should something go wrong.
  • Educate yourself! I love the Delta Platinum/Diamond reps – they have always been very helpful and creative with me. However, not every airline rep you speak with is going to be that helpful or willing to be that creative. Use tools like TripIt Pro (which I use – it imports all of your trips as the confirmations arrive in your e-mail and it tracks delays and suggests alternatives) and Expertflyer to find the various trip options should something go awry. Find other flights that may work, even if they are not with the same airline (more below).
  • Don’t limit your options. The Contracts of Carriage with airlines dictate that their responsibility is to get you to your destination. That means they can (and will) use other airlines (even those not in the same alliance) to get you to your destination. Don’t be afraid to suggest those options that you found in the previous step. As an example, I was flying Delta one time as was not going to make it home due to a delay so I asked them to put me on the Jetblue flight that left after our arrival. It was no problem.
  • Limit your connections. This is something that you need to watch for. If you are purchasing the ticket, you automatically go for the cheapest flights. However, if you look at the ticket  that costs $15 more, you may find that the connections go from 2 to 1 or to a non-stop. For a race (or some other fixed event) that is preferable.
  • Trip in vain – remember this phrase if you do get stuck someplace and are unable to actually make it to your destination before the race start. At least this way, the most expensive part of the trip will be refunded to you at no penalty.
  • Above all – BE NICE AND PLEASANT! Remember that if there is some type of delay, you are just one of an entire plane-load of passengers that is all of a sudden inconvenienced. The gate agents will be overwhelmed with all of that and there will be many passengers that will be irate. Realize before you go to the counter that this is not that individual’s fault and they are probably really stressed. Being nice with them will help them help you.

That is a lot of stuff, but do your best to remember these things as you plan your future trips. They will be sure to help your trip go smoother should their be airline delays. Overall, try to book a little cushion in your flights and this will solve most problems before they would ever happen. This is the primary reason I chose to fly out on Thursday for my St. George marathon as opposed to my original Friday flight that had me arriving in St. George at 9PM the night before the race – not very wise, especially when flying cross-country!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.