How to beat travel delays
Strikes, protests, extreme weather — whether we go for business or pleasure, there’s always a risk of disruptions and cancellations along the way.
So how can you stay ahead of problems that can affect your travels, and what can you do if you’re caught? We’ve got some tips for every step of the way.
When you book
– Give yourself plenty of time. If you have to be somewhere on a given day — like a wedding or big family dinner — it’s best to give yourself some “wiggle” room in case of delays. Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and plan to arrive well in advance.
– Travel earlier in the day. There are benefits to being the “early bird”. Flights early in the day are less likely to face delays, especially if you’re travelling through an airport in a bad weather zone. Another bonus: if you run into trouble, there will be more opportunities to hop on a later flight.
– Be cautious with connections. One missed or cancelled flight can have a domino effect on a packed itinerary. Experts recommend leaving plenty of time between connecting flights, or opting for “non-stop” or “direct” flights instead.
You can also do a little research to avoid problem airports too — like ones that are most vulnerable to bad weather or that have a poor record for being on time. (For instance, FareCompare.com has a list of Worst U.S. Airports.)
– Understand the procedures — and your rights. Different airlines and even different countries have their own policies regarding flight delays and cancellations. For instance, you might only receive compensation for meals, transportation or accommodations if the issue is the fault of the airline (like a mechanical failure) but not for bad weather or “Acts of God.” In some circumstances, you may be entitled to a flight on any carrier, even if it’s a competitor.
Where can you find this information? Check your airline’s website to see what policies and procedures are in place. For instance, some airlines offer an “opt-out” program if they know trouble is ahead, or have special programs and coverage to help you rebook.
– Use rewards with caution. Cashing in those rewards? Make sure you look into those policies as well. For instance, you may be required to go through your loyalty program to rebook a flight rather than going to the airline directly.
– Purchase trip interruption and cancellation insurance. If you get stranded somewhere, you’ll be glad you did. Read the policies carefully before you buy, and make sure you sure understand what is and isn’t included. Another bonus: You’ll have an extra person to call for help getting on your way again.
Before you travel
– Sign up for alerts. Most airlines have alert programs to help you keep tabs on your flight, and you can check the status online too. Other sources you may want to watch are the news and weather alerts. If a major storm is headed your way or there’s a job action on the horizon, you’ll know about it in advance.
– Arm yourself with information. If you get stuck, the last thing you’ll want to do is scramble for phone numbers and websites. Make a list of any customer service phone numbers you might need — like your insurance company, travel agent and airline — and bookmark any booking engines, airline websites and policy information that could be useful.
You can even add your airline to your twitter account. Some airlines have customer service reps monitoring their accounts. If you tweet about trouble, you may just get a quick response, say some experts.
– Scope out the situation. Where are the customer service desks and self-serve kiosks at the airport? Where can you find wireless internet access? Is there a special desk just for connecting passengers? You don’t need to memorize this information, but you’ll have an easier time finding what you need in a hurry if you’re familiar with what’s available.
– Make sure your baggage is ready too. You and your belongings could get separated during the process, so take steps to ensure a prompt reunion. Remove any tags from previous trips, and make sure your bags are labelled with your contact information (you can use your work address to protect your privacy). Some experts also recommend putting your business card or information inside the bag too in case tags go missing.
And when you check your bags, make sure the agent clearly labels each one. (For more tips, see Avoid lost baggage blues.)
– Keep essentials in your carry-on. Some small toiletries, medications, electronics chargers and other essentials should stay with you, not in your checked luggage. Be sure to pack some snacks and some activities to keep you busy — especially if you’re travelling with kids.
When your flight is cancelled or delayed
– Call ahead. There’s little point in rushing to the airport if you suspect there’s a problem. Weather conditions could be treacherous, so why risk your safety when you can make alternative arrangements from your home or hotel room?
– Contact the airline first. When there’s a cancellation, your first call should be the airline itself, says FareCompare.com. Why? Seats on flights will fill up fast, so it’s best to work with the airline directly. (Your travel agent and travel insurance company may be able to help too, especially if coordinating among different carriers.)
– Multi-task. If you’re already at the airport, some experts advise to skip the gate and head to the ticket counter instead — or go to a kiosk, get on the phone or go online to book a new flight. However, FareCompare.com warns you don’t have to choose — you can whip out your mobile device while you’re in line and deal with whoever you reach first. Some airlines like Delta even have apps to help you rebook.
– Keep in touch — and stay close. Whether you’re facing a delay or cancellation, keep tabs on the situation. If your flight has been delayed, not cancelled, experts warn not to leave. Delays can be unpredictable, and you don’t want to miss boarding if circumstances change quickly.
– Stay calm. You may be angry, disappointed or frustrated, but you’ll get a better response from customer service if you keep a level head and polite tone. Be patient with your fellow travellers too, even if they don’t return the favour.
Hopefully you won’t need these tips, but travel can be unpredictable. Remember to plan ahead, contact the airline and use every strategy at your disposable to book a new flight. If you can’t avoid disruptions, at least you’ll be able to deal with them gracefully and efficiently.
Sources: About.com: Air Travel, AirCanada.com, FareCompare.com, Frommers.com, Transportation Security Administration, VIA Rail, Westjet.com