CFR Traveller Tips vol. III

Welcome aboard this third version of CFR Traveller Tips, bound for trouble-land – but hopefully with an onward journey to the Land of Everything Was Alright in the End. Please take your seat and fasten your seat belt…

This time, the inspiration comes mainly from a couple of recent trips that didn’t quite go as planned – the first one being The Trip From Hell, already detailed in recent flight reviews.

What are the things that you can do – or be prepared to do, as much as possible at least – when the proverbial do-doo hits the fan? And what are the signs to look out for?

  1. How can you tell your flight schedule may be derailed?
  2. What can you do – and what should you never do?
  3. Tools and tricks to make the process easier

OK, first things first. One commmon denominator in both my December worst-of-worst kind of trip and the weather-related 2 hour delay I had this past Monday on a CPH-AMS trip was this one: A sight delay (5 to 15 min) announced; accompanied by “Await Info”.

The dreaded 5 min delay and "Await info"

The dreaded 5 min delay and “Await info”

Uh-oh! Red lights should flash and bells should start chiming in your head. Especially if you have connecting flights – go talk to a transfer desk or gate desk, given that it is already manned for your flight. At once. You may not end up wiser or with a complete solution, but just the chance that you may is well worth it.

If you have a connection, tell them. Do not assume that they will look it up or, even if they do, that they’ll catch all the relevant details. I did once – and it cost me a night in a London Heathrow hotel and a 24-hour late arrival in São Paolo. The top three lines on the computer screens did say

(my name)

yet, no-one took action on this and when the full information on my LHR flight became available, the possible alternatives had departed. Had the personnel done what they should (and even if, later, I got two Economy to Business upgrade requests as compensation since they didn’t), they could have thrown me on a BA flight and saved my bacon. So tell them and make sure they check for you.

Actually, one general rule is: always ask – for alternatives, for help, for information, for service… Sometimes it is all it takes to actually solve the situation.

That lead me to one of the most important don’ts. Do not ever, and I mean not ever shout at or talk down to the gate agent. Listen, it is very simple and for your own good: 1) shouting will not do your blood pressure any good and 2) the gate agent is your friend, maybe the only one you have right now!

Case in point: Some years ago, I was due to fly CPH-PEK with a colleague. When we checked in at the airport, we got seats number 25 and 26 beyond the capacity. Ouch! Turned out some planner had overlooked that we were in a vacation week – and holiday travellers turn up in full numbers, unlike business travellers.

Anyway, people shouting and yelling were three deep in front of the counter at the gate – manned with three nice SAS people, none of which were planners and so none of which were the ones responsible for the (major, sure) gaffe. When I made it to the counter, I smiled at the gate agent in front of me and quietly said that we were two and IF they could get just one of us on board, would they please consider my colleague (as she had to start some lab work out there that I had to wait for anyway).

Yep, she got a seat – she actually got a business class seat. That is, she moved 26 places up the queue and got an upgrade. I got a ticket via Frankfurt the next day and 300 EUR in compensation. Take a guess on how well the shouters fared? I don’t know either – but let us safely assume that at least one of them got pushed aside for my colleague.

Typical Tripit flight status. These green checkmarks is what you want to keep seeing!

Typical Tripit flight status. These green checkmarks is what you want to keep seeing!

In terms of staying ahead, I cannot recommend Tripit enough. More than once, I have received an alert from their service that something was coming unglued and thus been able to get in front of the queue. Which beats being in the back of it.

Another real-life example: Booked on DTW-JFK-CPH. On the way to Detroit, I got an SMS from Tripit’s Alert service: “Your DTW-JFK will be delayed due to late incoming flight and you will miss your connection at JFK.” Interestingly, the Delta people in the terminal didn’t know yet – which actually earned me a few suspicious looks. Like in “How did you know that when we don’t?” But I got rebooked on DTW-AMS-CPH – which was full when it took off, so I reckon that I wouldn’t have had too many options, had I been unaware of the change in schedules. Not to mention having been in JFK when it turned out that I wouldn’t get any further on my original ticket…

Also, it can be good to check the departure airport website in advance. Quite frequently, you can get updates on ongoing situations (weather issues, expected long checkin times or security queues, strikes – well, at least if it is in France where strikes are preannounced…).

And, if everything fails, know your rights (compensations; airline-arranged rebookings, hotel vouchers and meals; etc – the airline actually has an obligation to let you know). And stay calm, friendly and smiling, persistent and keep an eye out for getting the best out of it. Like the Canadian guy in the Air Canada spectacle in CPH in December who couldn’t keep down his pleasure over getting one more night to go partying in Copenhagen, now with money to burn as Air Canada was picking up the hotel tab. Be positive 🙂

That’s it for this time – hope it helps you some day and remember to fly safely!

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