In a perfect world, when a delay or flight cancelation occurs, everything just seamlessly shifts to accommodate the passenger and there is nothing to worry about! And that actually does happen when traveling on US airlines by themselves. But, when you put different airlines all on the same itinerary, it can become a very difficult time when some hiccup occurs with the reservation. Here are some tips to help you when that happens.
What To Do When Reservations Go Wrong
I have dealt with many interrupted reservations and most of the time, I go into autopilot mode and do what I need to for it to work out. But, with my mother-in-law making a trip to visit us, I was reminded exactly what steps I take as I tried to help her get setup with the flight interruption. Hopefully, these will help you.
Get In Line And On The Phone
When there is some major trip interruption, like serious weather, it is not just one plane full of passengers who are inconvenienced. It is likely whole terminals. Instantly, counters at the gate become besieged by passengers in an effort to turn it into a customer service desk. In reality, if the airport is a major hub, the major airlines will have actual customer service counters staffed with the people that can get the situation resolved for you. Find those counters and get in line. While you are in line, also call the airline. This way, you have both methods of communication going and one may be much faster than the other. In the case of my mother-in-law’s trip, weather was the interrupter and the line at the airport had her waiting over 90 minutes. I called and was able to get through in only 5 minutes! While that is abnormally quick for a weather delay, it is still a great point to keep in mind – use both methods of communication.
Travel Tip: If you are an elite with the airline (or within the alliance), make sure you hunt out the line at the customer service desk for you. The huge crowds can often block the entrance sign for elites so hunt around until you find it. It will likely be much quicker than the general access, but also scope out the situation. Typically, they may have like a 1:3 ratio of elite reps to general customer reps. If the elite line is long as well, you may be better off in the general line.
Another tip is if you have a credit card that gives you lounge access. The lines in the lounges will be much shorter and the reps there may be able to help you in ways that the other reps may not. Even if you do not have access through membership or a credit card, carry a lounge pass in your bag just in case for these circumstances (credit cards like the United MileagePlus Explorer come with 2 lounge passes each year).
Get Online And Check Your Options
This can be done while the plane is taxiing to the gate or if you decide to just wait in line first. But, subscriptions like ExpertFlyer can be a huge help for delays and cancelations. Expert Flyer will let you search for a particular route and it will tell you of the availability on those flights across all airlines. This way, you can be informed when going up to the counter and making your request. You cannot assume that the reps will necessarily have/give the best options at first. Having the information saves them time and it helps you to have a plan.
Another great tool is TripIt Pro. If there is some delay, cancelation, or missed connection, TripIt Pro will notify you and give you the option to search for alternate flight options. This is quick and easy to do and can be a huge timesaver. Again, it allows you to go to the counter with options in hand rather than having to wonder which flight option they will give is the best.
Real Life: This happened with my mother-in-law. The customer service rep gave her a flight option that was going to leaver her with an 11 hour layover. While that might be nice for exploring a city, she just wanted to get here and see the grandkids! I was on the phone with her (while she was at the counter) and looking up options on Expert Flyer and found a great set of flights that left several hours earlier and had plenty of availability. When she suggested it, the rep at first said that was not coming up as an option but when he punched it in manually, there it was. Now, while airlines can move you to another airline with a different alliance, it is always easier to start with same alliance airlines (which this one was).
Do Not Assume It Is Done Until The Tickets Are In Hand
It is easy to just say thank-you and walk away when they tell you it is all done but never leave without having tickets or at least some type of confirmation that shows your ticket numbers and confirmed flights. This was another situation with my mother-in-law’s flight. They told her to come back the next day and have someone call the number they gave her to have the final airline (on her original itinerary) un-check her in and release the ticket to the issuing airline. If that sounds confusing, it was to her too! I really did not like this situation as they had not confirmed any flights and simply tagged the alternate flights for her itinerary – so she still did not have a ticket.
Instead, I called the final airline and asked them to un-check her from the flight and release the itinerary back to the original airline. After only a few minutes, it was taken care of and I called the issuing airline to get the ticket reissued. After an hour on the phone with the helpful rep, the ticket was reissued with the new flights and it looked like she was good to go.
But, she still did not have the tickets since the counter was not open yet so I kept checking the reservation. At some point, the flights disappeared from her itinerary. Back on the phone I went and another 30 minutes with a rep. It was finally taken care of but it would have been a major headache, and possibly a full flight with no room for her, if she had waited until going to the counter like the rep had said the night before. Do not assume it is done until tickets are in hand!
Have Hotel Options
If the interruption was due to weather, the airline will not be giving you a voucher for a hotel. The main exception is if you are a top-tier elite member with the airline. Even then, though, it is never a guarantee as it is kind of an unspoken benefit. The airline will give you a list of hotels with discounts for the situation but they may not be cheap enough or optimal. Having points/free nights can really help out in this situation. I simply called up Hyatt and booked a Points+Cash room for the night and it was all done. Now, if it had been me traveling, I would have had a hotel that would have given me an elite night credit plus a nice breakfast in the morning and a possible room upgrade! Not bad! (if I had booked an outright award stay, my mother-in-law would also have had access to my Diamond benefits).
I know this one should go without saying but these situations can be very tense and difficult for everyone. As frustrating as it is for you to wait in line for one or two hours, remember that the reps have been dealing with many disgruntled passengers for about that same amount of time. I always make it a point to greet the reps with a smile and something like this, “I know you must be having a much more difficult day than I am right now and I want to thank you for your help.” You will see a face that may have looked drained before perk up and, instead of just being a customer in front of them, there is actual human interaction that takes place between the two of you! It helps them and helps you. It may not give you what you want in the situation, but it certainly ensures a better experience all the way around.
Interrupted reservations and flights are just a part of airline travel. It happens! How you handle it and how prepared you are can make the difference between an extremely grueling experience or a speed bump. In the case of my mother-in-law, everything ended up working out fine but it wouldn’t have if we didn’t put these steps into play. Flights had already started filling out for a couple of days and, by not having a ticket confirmed, she may have been one of those passengers waiting days instead of hours.
Airline travel is a wonderful thing that gets places quickly. Every so often, we have one of these equalizing moments that seem to make a car trip seem like a better option. But, be prepared and it will be fine!