Since I’m stuck at home due to Hurricane Sandy, I thought I’d write a bit about how to deal with weather interruptions. Obviously, with major events such as hurricanes, the goal is just to be safe and rebook travel as soon as possible. But when these things happen, there can be huge lines – both at airports and on the phone. What are some ways to minimize wait times?
1. Get ahead of the game
My parents were scheduled to fly to Europe this Tuesday out of Newark. Since their plans were flexible, they rebooked their flights for a later date as soon as their airline announced it was waiving change fees. In travel, like in anything, the early bird gets the worm, so if you have flexibility, take advantage of it and change your travel plans as early as possible. Not only will you not have to wait in line as long, you might be able to get onto earlier flights and get better seats. Though the goal is to travel safely, that doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with traveling comfortably.
2. Tweet at me! (The internet is your friend)
Whenever possible, try to avoid talking to a human being. For starters, just imagine how frazzled the phone operators must get at times like this. Secondly, there are no lines on the internet (unless you’re waiting to buy tickets to the World Series or something). Once airlines waive change and cancel fees, the first thing I’d try to do is go online and try to cancel or rebook there. You can always do this while waiting on the phone if you want to hedge your bets. Another great thing to do is use Twitter: in my experience both @DeltaAssist and @Jetblue are great at responding with flight updates and the like. They can even help get you connected with someone to rebook. Tweet at them!
3. Call a different number
If you have elite status or know somebody who has elite status, call the elite lines. Obviously there are less elites out there, which means the lines are going to be shorter. If someone in your family or even a friend is willing to call for you or do a 3 person call, they can get you in the door and then you can do the talking once that part is over. Another nice trick that I haven’t tried is to call the international phone centers – sometimes these calls are even free through Skype. If time is more important to you than money, that could be a good option. The Points Guy has a list of international numbers here.
4. If you don’t get the answer you want, try again
Last year my wife and I were booked to go to Spain for a weekend but had some weather delays. It wasn’t a hurricane situation – flights were delayed but it wasn’t like everything was shutting down. We were already at the airport, so we called US Airways to try to rebook. We were told our only option was to rebook for the next day or cancel. Since we could only take one day off of work – this would have essentially turned our trip into a one day trip.
Here is when it’s important not to give up. I don’t like waiting in lines, but I knew that the ticket agents at the airport might be willing to be more flexible. Our US Airways flight was delayed to the point where we’d miss our connection in Philadelphia, but I also knew that there are tons of flights going to Europe directly from Boston – and that there’d be a good chance they would book us on one of those flights, even a competitor. So we waited it out in line for half an hour (we figured if we couldn’t leave that night we’d cancel anyway). Lo and behold, we were helped by some kind of super-agent: he had us on a Delta flight to London with a connection to Madrid within 5 minutes. Not only that, but he booked us in a premium fare class so we earned 150% MQMs on the flight. I share this story to illustrate the importance of advocating yourself, nicely, to try to get where you want to go as soon as possible.
5. Be flexible and stay positive
The most important thing is to keep your cool when rebooking travel. It’s always frustrating when our plans get messed up, but keeping a positive attitude makes people more willing to help you, and can also help keep you open to new experiences. This past February, my wife and I were flying to the Alsace region of France and had our entire first day planned out. Land in Strasbourg in the morning, explore the city, drive to our hotel, etc. Unfortunately, something happened with our flights and we needed to rebook. Instead of getting frustrated, we just calmly waited in line and on the phone at the same time – at the time we were silver medallion so we could call an elite line. I got someone on the phone before we got to the front of the line – and in two shakes we were rebooked on a flight connecting through Amsterdam.
Delta has a nice system where you can just scan your old boarding pass into a machine and they’ll spit out your new ones if you’ve been rebooked, so we did that and sat down to eat dinner in the food court – while using the free wifi to figure out what to do on a six hour Amsterdam layover. So instead of getting frustrated and in an argument with anyone, we actually ended up with a free stopover in Amsterdam! I’m not saying things like that will always happen, but it’s just important to keep a good attitude and be positive. Traveling is always an adventure, so sometimes you just have to take your lumps and enjoy the experience!