When you’ve left home, you’re at the mercy of the airlines to get you to your intended destination. For the most part, I think they do a great job moving us and our things efficiently. Not always comfortably, but efficiently. On the occasion that something goes wrong and you’ve already left home, it’s helpful to have a plan on how to rectify the situation and ensure that your journey continues onward with the least amount of interruption.
In the event of a flight cancellation or an abnormally long delay, I usually have a three-pronged plan that I immediately put into motion.
The idea is to get in the queue, physically and virtually, as quickly as possible because reaccommodations are often handled first come first serve, except for some elite priority.
The first step is to get on the phone with the airline. If you are an elite member, take advantage of the special phone number on the back of your card, and better yet save it in your phone as the default contact for that airline. For the rest of us calling the general number, the idea is to get in the phone queue as fast as possible since you’re not the only one impacted.
Second, ideally executed simultaneously, is to work with a gate agent. Odds are there is a line already at your gate or at customer service to talk to someone. If it’s short, get in that line. If it’s not, head down to that airline’s lounge if you are in an airport that has one. Domestic airline lounges are, to the best of my knowledge, all staffed with their own gate agents from that airline and are often incredibly helpful. In addition, there is usually less of a wait to talk to them. If you manage to get a physical agent, obviously put your phone down, but stay on hold just in case.
The third, if time allows because I am waiting in line, is to research my own alternative options. There are free tools like FlightStats Flight Airline Seat Availability and paid options like ExpertFlyer, which include availability as part of a larger suite. I am personally very happy with ExpertFlyer and recommend them if you fly often enough to justify the cost. While you wait, begin to look for options out – starting with the airline you are already flying, but including others as time allows. By the time you get to the front of the line or phone queue, you may have suggestions for the agent or can push back a bit if told they cannot accommodate you today/tomorrow/whenever, but you see inventory available.
Finally, I’ve found Twitter to be an option for contacting the airline for minor glitches – usually rebooking doesn’t fall within their purview, but it cannot hurt to ask.
The Cheat Sheet
For the sake of convenience, I have compiled a list of contacts through phone, web and twitter channels that you may want to take with you or enter into your own contact list so that you’re not fighting free airport wifi or overloaded cell towers to google these when needed. Right now I only have the major US domestic carriers, but we can go international as well. I’ve included the best public reservations number, but if you’re an elite, be sure to replace with the number that you’ve been provided by the airline. Right now the Google Doc has comments turned on, so please feel free to make suggestions.
Happy flying and remember that these occasions are the exception, not the norm, and that being prepared to handle them will make them a whole lot less stressful!