Five Steps For Handling a Delayed Flight Like a Pro

IMG_2616Right now, dear readers, the hubby and I are sipping on margaritas, writing this with complimentary wi-fi, with our phones charging, awaiting a flight to Chicago from the Philadelphia airport. All in all, life’s pretty good.

The rest of the passengers around us, however, are not sharing our zen. Due to bad weather up and down the Eastern seaboard today, a vast majority of my fellow travelers out of this airport had their flights delayed or cancelled, resulting in missed connections and next-day rebookings.

In fact, our original flight was set to to suffer the same fate: an hour weather delay of our flight from Philly to Atlanta would have caused us to miss our connecting flight from Atlanta to Austin. But we managed to get ourselves rebooked way before most other passengers even knew there was a delay.  And you can too. Here’s how:

  1.  Check flight status early and often on your day of travel

We like to do this a couple different ways. First of all, I have the app for each airline I usually travel preloaded onto my phone, making it easy to check directly with the airline whenever I please.

Secondly, because the hubby uses an Android phone and a Gmail address, all his travel automatically populates within “Google Now“. I don’t know where Google pulls their info from, but oftentimes they alert us long before the airline does of a delay or cancellation – sometimes even 24 hours ahead of time.

That’s what happened today.  Our flight was scheduled for 5:10pm. We probably wouldn’t have normally arrived at the airport until around 3:30pm, by which time all the available rebooking options would have already been taken up by other passengers; we would have been stuck in Atlanta for the night.

But Google Now alerted us to the delay around noon. So we were able to call the airline, and by 1pm, still 2.5 hours before most passengers arrived at the airport and learned of the delay, we were already rebooked via Chicago, and checked in to that flight instead.

2. Know The Alternate Routes You Want

When you call the airline to get yourself rebooked, know what you want to make happen. Your options at this points are varied: you could ask to get rebooked on an alternate route that day, you could ask to get rebooked on the same route the next day and also get a hotel voucher, you could ask to see if they’ll place a hold on your connecting flight (essentially delaying that flight – an option they’ll usually only agree to if there are plenty of other passengers also making that connection), or you could just ask for points to make up for your bad experience. Because there are so many possible solutions here, it’s important to know what it is you’re asking for.

This is the other reason I have all the airline apps cluttering my phone. As soon as I get notice of a delay, I can check both on that airline and any of their codeshare airlines for alternate same-day options to my destination. This includes checking alternate nearby airports as well; once you get to the airport you’re locked in to leaving from that location, but at the point you first learn of the delay, you have plenty of time to explore other options.

For us, we saw that there was an alternate route that took us through Chicago, also on Southwest (which we were originally booked on). I noted that there was still availability on those flights, and proceeded to call Southwest to see what I could do.

3.  Be NICE. Insanely nice. Ridiculously nice. 

When you make the call, a few things to keep in mind: the person you are talking to is not the one responsible for delaying your flight. In fact, they want to help you. So don’t take out your frustrations on them. Ask them how their day is. Say please and thank you. Be nice.

You may think that it’s their job to rebook you to your destination, and that’s true.  But the phone agents still have a lot of extra favors that they can decide to bestow, or not.  Like waving change fees, giving you priority boarding, assigning your seats, etc. So be nice.

However – if you get an agent that doesn’t seem to want to help you at all? Just hang up and try again. Keep calling until you get a friendly agent, and don’t be afraid to reference any premium status you may have with the airline to your advantage.

For us, we got a friendly phone agent on the first call.  I explained that we would miss our connection, but saw there was another route with availability through Chicago that arrived about an hour later – could she help us get on that flight?  And she did, without any additional fees, which is impressive considering that we were booked on award + companion pass travel and so weren’t generating any revenue for the airline. Score.

4. Get to the airport early, anyways. 

If a lot of flights are cancelled, delayed, or just generally going to hell in your destination, get to the airport early.  The booking agents are going to be having to take extra time to try to rebook disgruntled passengers, and so baggage check, security, and even boarding can take longer than expected. Give yourself an hour more than you would normally, and followup with every single airline representative you encounter (following rule #3, of course) to see what other extras they may be able to provide.

For us, while the phone agent was able to rebook us, she wasn’t able to give us the “Earlybird” status we’d paid for on our original flight- we got late C boarding passes on our new flights, meaning it would be unlikely we could sit together given Southwest’s rather unique boarding process.  Similarly, the agent at the checkin desk just told us to contact customer service by email after the fact.

But once we got through security, the gate agent was able to help us out, bumping us up to “A group” boarding passes with little to no hassle. And we were able to make it happen because we had plenty of time to wait in line and chat with each of these agents, instead of stressing and fretting about making the checked bag cut off because the booking agent line wasn’t moving fast enough.

5.  Followup After The Fact

Once you’ve survived the travel drama and made it to your destination, it’s time to email the airline and let them know how they could have done better. If you paid for any extras (like priority boarding, or a higher class seat) that you didn’t end up getting because of the rebooking, ask to have it refunded.

But even if you got everything you paid for, it’s still worth writing the airline, and explaining how you were inconvenienced. Most airlines will offer up some token of apology – either in points, or travel credit – especially if the delays were their fault (e.g. caused by staffing issues or mechanical problems.)  Keep in mind that according to the ticket contract, they owe you nothing, and once again, be nice.

We’ll be doing this once we get home tomorrow, and will update to let you know how it goes.

But there you have it – five steps that, if followed, can help prevent huge headaches when your flight itinerary goes wonky for whatever reason. Got tips for getting rebooked you’d like to share?  Tell us in the comments.

Whitney