Have you ever booked a flight only to find out later that it was delayed, or worse--canceled?
You're not alone. In only a single month of 2016, over 120,000 travelers were affected by canceled flights out of London Heathrow. Due to a problem with the baggage system, customers were left stranded in the airport for days, many having to cancel their holidays.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, solving a logistical mess like this is not easy. More passengers end up stuck due to overbooking and strict airline schedules, which can mean if you miss your original flight, you could be waiting a while for another one.
Even as a seasoned traveler, I'm not immune to the effects of system delays. On a recent trip, I was notified via email and text alert by United Airlines that the first leg of my three-flight journey was going to be delayed, causing what is called a "misconnect."
There was no need to panic. I simply used the following three steps to make sure I still got to my final destination on time:
1. Know your rights.
The first thing to always do when traveling is to familiarize yourself with the contract of carriage for your particular airline. Different airlines have different rules around what they will cover in the event of a delay or cancellation, and even what the very definition of "cancel" or "delay" is.
In the instance of my United flight, a mechanical delay was causing the issue. This afforded me multiple options, including the right to ask United to book me on another airline if a seat in the same class of service is available.
A great source of finding updated Contracts of Carriage for your airline in plain text can be found on Airfare Watchdog.
2. Find an alternate route.
Once you know the general framework, you can now start to get creative on how to get to your final destination. Before talking to the airline, come up with another way for you to get there.
Is there another flight on your airline that will work? Maybe there's a different airport you wanted to fly into or out of. Here's your chance to do the legwork to find a brand new itinerary.
In my case, after a quick scan of flights, I found that while there was no way for me to make either of my next two legs due to the delay, there was a completely different itinerary I could take that would get me to my final destination only half an hour later.
A great tool for this is Tripit Pro. It also has the bonus feature of letting you know ahead of time when your flights are going to be delayed, before even the airlines send out the memo.
3. Call the airline.
I cannot stress this enough--do not wait until you are at the airport to handle any issues. There are a limited number of agents at the airport and a large number of passengers. If you wait until you arrive, you may lose the possibility of your newly found itinerary.
The majority of the time, if you call up the airline already having done the research to find new flights that work for you, they'll be appreciative and book you on whatever it is, no matter if that flight cost $1,500 to your $99 basic economy ticket.
You're doing them a favor by being polite and helpful. So, of course, remember to be polite and helpful, and don't panic.
While I was waiting politely on the phone for my rebooking, the agent apologized to me multiple times and managed to snag me the last bulkhead seat available on my international flight at no extra charge.
If all else fails...
If you can't find an alternative, and you are stuck at the airport, there are still things that can help. Airlines offer differing amounts of monetary and other compensation depending on where you're flying in and out of, and depending on the type of delay, your credit card may as well.
Refund.me is a service that helps passengers on flights to and from the EU claim compensation from delayed and canceled flights.
While things turned out OK for me, for many other passengers on my flight trying to make connections it wasn't so rosy--they ended up with an unplanned overnight in our connecting city. The airline provided hotel vouchers for them and rebooked them for the next day.
However, with these tips, you can slide through any delay like a pro, and avoid having to wait it out for days at the airport.