Weather delays, flights that are overbooked, and seemingly endless lines mark typical days at most airlines' ticket counters. And it's only going to get worse. Too bad for business travelers who have to get to their destinations on time for make-or-break meetings, only to find that the ticket they paid for is rendered practically useless when a flight is delayed or -- worse yet -- canceled.
Is it really so bad out there? Hardly, says Stephen Colwell, coauthor of Trouble-Free Travel...And What to Do When Things Go Wrong. In fact, the informed business traveler usually is equipped with an arsenal of options that come with the ticket. His main advice: "Know your rights before you travel."
So what can you do if you're stuck? First, calm down. As Colwell explains, making the counter agent your ally is key. "Be assertive, but do it in such a way that you're not alienating the person who may want to help you," he says.
If your flight is canceled because of airline folly, Colwell suggests asking the ticket agent to sign your ticket over to another carrier. "People aren't going to suggest this," he adds, but it is legal. Tell the agent how much money your company spends with the airline and mention your own personal frequent-flier status. The cost of your ticket may also help. These days, in overbooking situations, "the person with the highest-priced ticket gets the highest level of service," Colwell says.
If that doesn't help, ask to see the Conditions of Carriage. The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that all commercial air carriers present the contract to customers when requested. At that point, Colwell says, the agent will recognize that you're an informed customer and will want to send you on your way.
But what happens if you're stuck in San Francisco en route to Boston, and you're fogged in? Offer to switch airports, Colwell suggests. Driving to the Oakland or San Jose airport may be a bit of a pain, but it sure beats sleeping in an airport lounge. The same holds true for connecting flights. If you're on a coast-to-coast flight connecting in Chicago, and the windy city is getting socked with a blizzard, offer to connect in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport instead.
It all sounds good, but does any of it really work? It sure does, says Colwell. "I was trying to meet my wife in Paris," he recalls. "The only way to get there in time was to fly out of Montreal on an evening flight, but it was oversold. I got them to transfer me to another airline at a nearby airport."