This morning, a friend of the family was travelling to a wedding and flying to one of LA’s secondary airports, Ontario International Airport. What she didn’t account for was heavy fog and snow surrounding the Calgary area. Due to the inclement weather, her flight was delayed and she was rerouted via United’s automatic system. While the system does work, the new suggested route got her to her destination after 9pm and she needed to be there before 5pm.
I helped her through her ordeal with a good result but it begs the question, what do you do if you face flight delays or cancellations?
Start Your Trip Right
The first thing you should do when you book your flight is to use a credit card that has flight delay or flight cancellation insurance. The American Express Gold card for example will cover up to $1,500 of expenses if you trip is cancelled for a covered reason and even the people in your party would be covered to a maximum value of $6,000. Most travel credit cards will provide you with some sort of reimbursement for help offset the cost of accommodations, food, personal items and even alternate travel arrangements.
While this insurance likely won’t get you to your destination any faster, it will at the very least provide you some compensation for your out of pocket expenses.
You see, in Canada and the United States, there is no consumer protection measurements that cover off travelers that experience delays or cancellations. It is really up to the airline to provide compensation based on the criteria they feel is fair and in my experience, it isn’t even close to enough.
Compensation is Great But How Do I Get to My Destination?
Because airlines write their own rules on how they get you to your destination, you have two choices:
- Accept what the airline says
- Take control of the situation and tell the airline what you want
We are obviously here to talk about Option B.
I will first say that the key to finding something that will work for you and your traveling party depends largely on two parties, yourself and the airline agent you deal with.
I’ll teach you how to be prepared on your end but I can’t teach politeness. Many times, I have seen gate agents and folks working the customer service desk being treated like garbage. I get that people are frustrated that their travel plans have gone awry but I can guarantee two things. The first is that they had nothing to do with messing up your travel plans and the second is that they can absolutely make it worse. Treat people like garbage, expect garbage results.
With that being said if you treat these people with respect, they are much more willing to help.
I have personally had excellent experiences with customer service representatives because I have been prepared to tell them what I want while also doing it respectfully. Bringing them a fresh coffee doesn’t hurt either.
Know What You Want
Ever been in the situation with your significant other where you both want to go out to eat but neither of you want to make the decision of where you want to go? Well, much like that situation, if you don’t know where you want to go, any route will get you there.
What I’m trying to tell you is to prepare before you make your request with the airline agent. Find out what route options might work for you and see if the agent can rebook you on that flight. These airline agents have a lot of authority to help you get to where you want to go.
As an example, I was supposed to fly from YYC-SFO-HKG but because of a weather delay, the United system automatically rerouted me from YYC-YEG-DEN-SFO-HKG the next day. I spoke to the United agent and asked if I could be rerouted through Vancouver to catch an Air Canada flight the next morning and guess what? She accommodated me. What’s more, she gave me a hotel voucher to stay at the Fairmont at the Vancouver airport … and that’s an amazing hotel.
Long story short. I provided the agent with a reasonable option and treated her with respect. In return, she got me where I wanted to go and I ended up in Hong Kong 12 hours later than my original itinerary but didn’t have to take the United milk run that was automatically assigned to me and I was very well rested.
ITA On the Fly
What this application does for you is it looks for all the flights that are currently available for purchase for any route you need. It’s like many others out there like applications supplied by Kayak or Expedia but the difference here is that I personally find this application is much faster while providing you with a lot more precise control over your search options. The other nice thing about the application is that it provides you with nearby airports so that you can open up your search. For example, if you were flying in to LAX and there were no seats left, you could look to fly into Long Beach (LGB), Burbank (BUR), Santa Ana (SNA), Ontario (ONT) or Santa Barbara (SBA). More options, especially during weather delays that affect more than your flight, is a good thing.
Armed with information about the route you want to use to get to your destination, approach the agent and respectfully ask if they can reroute you to your destination via your selected route. You can let the agent know that you have searched the route and have found availability. This allows the agent to quickly search for flight and verify the information you provided so that you can be rebooked.
It’s Not All Bad
Most people would be satisfied with successfully diffusing a situation where a delay or cancellation might derail a vacation or other travel plans but you can actually extract value out of this situation.
As I had mentioned above, be sure to collect any compensation you are due from your credit card insurances but also remember that if you are rebooked due to a delay, they may rebook you on a revenue ticket.
What does that mean? Well it means that if you are travelling on points and are rebooked on a revenue ticket, you are now able to collect points on the flights that you are rebooked on.
For example, in my situation where I was on an award ticket from YYC-SFO-HKG and rebooked from YYC-YVR-HKG, I was able to collect Aeroplan points for the new routing. If our original plans would have held, I would not have seen any points because you cannot collect points on a reward flight.
So while I was delayed by 12 hours, I was given a hotel stay at the Fairmont, a voucher for breakfast and collected points on my onward travel. Now compare that to taking the originally suggested YYC-YEG-DEN-SFO-HKG milk run where I would not have collected any points.
The lesson here is to be prepared and respectful and in almost all situations, you will be able to resolve your delay with a satisfactory result.
Lemons into lemonade.