As airline passenger horror stories continue to pop up in the news, it’s important to step back and learn everything you can about how to control your experience when things go wrong. Frequent travelers have an arsenal of tools available to them when air travel doesn’t go as planned—these are the most important ones to know.
1. Use technology to multi-task
In the case of a flight delay or cancellation, everyone’s first instinct is to stand in line to speak with an available airline agent. You’ll most likely be waiting in that line for hours, so why not multi-task? Hop on social media and reach out to the airline’s Twitter or Facebook team. At the same time, search for alternate flights. Jump on the phone and speak with a travel agent who might be able to assist you faster.
Consider asking to fly to or from an alternate city nearby. On occasion, airlines may be willing to help with the cost of ground transportation if it frees up a space on another full flight. This is an instance when airline elite status comes in handy, as you’ll receive priority for rebooking your flight. But don’t depend on agents to search all connection options—they may not research other airlines’ available flights voluntarily.
2. Seek trip delay protection and perks
These days, travel credit cards aren’t just the most reliable way to earn miles, annual travel credits, ultimate rewards, and elite status—they also hold the ticket to receiving trip compensation when all else fails. Many of the best new credit cards for serious travelers provide trip insurance on delayed flights that were booked using that specific card.
This can include coverage of hotel reservations when flights are severely delayed and compensation for lost luggage. (Every card’s protection plan is different.) Be sure to read the fine print; cards like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve or the Delta American Express Platinum card offer decent coverage for those who can provide ample proof of their delayed flight with relevant receipts.
3. Lounge while you wait
A huge perk of elite status are the airport lounge passes that afford access to members at certain status levels. In addition to providing trip insurance and compensation, travel credit cards like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve offer cardholders a Priority Pass Select membership that grants access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world.
Why is this important? Aside from providing a more comfortable place to wait for your delayed or rescheduled flight, airport lounges are actually a better place to deal with travel dilemmas: Inside elite lounges, airport employees and agents have more flexibility to assist with rebooking flights because there are fewer customers waiting to be helped. (For flyers without elite status, there’s always the option to buy a membership or daily pass at the lounge entrance.)
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4. Know your passenger rights
If an airline asks for volunteers to give up seats on a flight, you could have the right to receive compensation (if you comply, of course). If you are involuntarily denied boarding on an overbooked flight, it’s important to know your rights as a passenger. Many frequent flyers would be surprised to learn that U.S. airlines are legally able to enact an “involuntary deboarding situation” in which airplane passengers can be bumped off overbooked flights as long as the displaced passengers are provided with full refunds. (More on that here.)
With exceedingly long delays due to mechanical issues, airlines might provide vouchers for food and hotels. But if your flight is delayed or canceled because of weather or air traffic control, airlines are not obligated to provide compensation. It’s worth asking customer service, however, if there are any available “distressed traveler vouchers.” Various airlines routinely provide phone numbers of hotels with discounted rates to airline passengers with last-minute hotel needs.
5. Claim your miles
If you get rebooked on another airline, be sure to claim the miles for your new flight. Frequent flier information does not always transfer over, especially if your flight has been transferred to another carrier.
For travelers eager to earn mileage and elite status, it never hurts to ask to receive “original routing credit” when a flight cancellation or delay results in the need to rebook your trip through a different airline. Certain airlines will provide mileage credit or vouchers for future travel to passengers who were put on other carriers due to mechanical or operational issues (as opposed to bad weather). This is not guaranteed, of course. To claim your miles and credit, check in with an agent or on the airline’s website.
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