Airline Aggravation - Flight Delays
“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you…”
are the words that raise the blood pressure of any airline traveler.
You know whatever words come next are not going to be good. Instantly,
thoughts race through your mind. Flight cancellation? Weather delay?
Mechanical problem? Flight overbooked?
There are some measures you can take to minimize these airline aggravations:
1. Avoid airlines and flights where delays are common.
airlines keep track of their on-time performance on a flight-by-flight
basis. If booking online, try the carrier’s site first. Many list
their online performance rates, although they may be a bit difficult to
find. For example, if you search United Airlines schedules by
price, the online performance is not displayed. However, if you search
by schedule, it is displayed. If booking over the phone, ask the
agent for the on-time performance code, a rating system of “1” to “9”
that indicates the percentage of on-time arrivals (i.e., arrivals
within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival times). For example, an "8" means
that flight arrived on schedule between 80% and 89.9% of the
time. If you have a choice of flights, try for the flight with the best
2. Arrange flight notifications.
travel booking web sites and the larger airlines’ official sites offer
free flight notifications that can be sent to your pager, cell
phone or e-mail. These notifications offer information such as flight
delays, departure gate assignments and gate changes. Conceivably,
this could save you lots of time, but in actuality, they seem to be only
marginally effective. Airlines often wait until the last minute
to announce a delay, so you may not be notified until you arrive
at the airport.
3. Avoid connecting flights if possible.
greatest impact of flight delays is when they cause you to miss a
connecting flight. With today’s airline hub-and-spoke system, this
is easier said than done, especially when the connecting flight option
is less expensive. If the price difference is minimal, justify the extra
expense of a direct flight by deducting the amount you’d save by not
buying the meal, drink, magazine, and gift shop purchases during
your layover (at airport stand prices!) Avoiding a connecting flight is
especially important when you have a scheduled event you must
attend such as a wedding, business meeting, conference or job interview.
in mind how weather can affect connections. While weather problems
usually delay less than 1% of all flights, the delays are
dependent on the season. Connecting through Chicago or Denver in May is
fine, but you may wish to connect elsewhere come January due to
the chance of snow and sleet. Conversely, Atlanta in winter is fine, but
in spring may be a poor choice due to thunderstorms.
you have a choice of a 45-minute layover or 1:45-minute layover, you
may wish to opt for the longer one. Those 45 minutes between
arrival of your first flight and departure of your connecting flight may
seem like plenty of time. However, when you add a 10 minute
delay, 10 minutes to deplane, 10 minutes to get to the connecting gate,
and the 10 minutes prior to departure door closing, you may not
even have time to find the restroom. If you’ve opted for the longer
layover and your first flight is slightly delayed, you'll still
have plenty of time to make your connection and even get your shoes
shined. If you arrive early, you may be able to fly standby on the
earlier flight and still be guaranteed a seat on the later flight. Just
head to the first flight’s gate and explain you are on a later flight
and would love to hop on the early one if there’s room. If your
original flight is more heavily booked, the airline might be delighted
to put you on the earlier flight.
4. Avoid the last flight of the day.
you are on the last flight out and it is canceled, your options become
not which flight will be best but whether you’ll be sleeping in the
airport or at a local hotel. Whenever possible, pick a flight that
leaves an hour or two before the last flight of the day. In a pinch,
you might be able to get on the other flight (this is really only a
viable option if you have not checked bags on the original flight).
5. Arrive early and check in.
airport traffic, backed up rental car return counters, long check-in
lines, and security checkpoints, there are always obstacles to
slow down a traveler in a hurry. And the less time a passenger allows,
the greater the risk of lost or delayed luggage, seat assignments
right next to the lavatory or denied boarding due to overbooking or a
missed flight. Most airlines begin boarding 30 or more minutes
prior to departure and close the doors 10 minutes before backing out of
the gate. Don’t make the mistake of hanging out at the airport bar
and arriving at the gate five minutes before departure if you expect to
6. Expect delays.
your schedule requires you to arrive on time to make your appointment,
you’re simply asking for trouble. “On-time arrival” is often an
oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or “working vacation”. Pad enough time into
your schedule so that a flight delay won’t impact your business
meeting or cruise departure. When notified of the delay, don’t be
surprised if it turns into a creeping delay. That mechanical delay
of 15 minutes due to a burned out bulb can creep into an hour as they
“have to get the paperwork signed off.”
How to Handle a Delay
1. Keep your cool.
in mind that airlines don’t guarantee their schedules. A weather
problem in Topeka can delay your flight to San Francisco if that
is where your aircraft originates. No amount of yelling at the gate
agent can conjure up a plane that is 2000 miles away and socked in
by fog. Be polite but firm. Use terms like “What can you do for me?” or
“Perhaps you could route me through another airport?” or “Is it
possible to put me on another carrier’s flight?” You are much more
likely to get that extra effort from the agent if you avoid saying
things like “This always happens to me when I fly this rotten airline!”
or “This is pathetic!”
2. Be patient.
flight delay is generally just that--a delay. Whether due to a delayed
incoming flight or mechanical problem, the flight usually takes
off, albeit an hour or more late. Unless there are extenuating
circumstances, it is not wise to attempt to switch flights. First, there
is no guarantee another flight will be any less problematic
(especially if the delay is due to weather) . If you’ve checked any
bags, you will either be separated from your luggage or not be
allowed to switch, since you must fly on the same plane as your bags for
security reasons. Although you may wish to deplane if an extended
delay has you stuck at the gate imprisoned inside the stuffy plane,
often the plane may be given a last minute OK to depart and must
depart immediately lest it lose its takeoff slot.
3. Call the reservations center.
a flight is cancelled, you may find yourself in a long line of fellow
travelers awaiting a customer service agent to make alternate
flight arrangements. You can avoid all this and use a phone to contact
the reservations center directly. If there are only 10 seats
available on the next flight and you’re 20th in line, the math
calculation is quite easy. By calling the reservation center, you
can essentially jump yourself to the beginning of the line. In
most cases, a phone agent can assist in rescheduling a flight as
efficiently as an airport agent.
4. Know your rights (or more aptly, your lack of rights).
airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed
passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. If
you are delayed, ask the airline staff if they will pay for meals or
give you a hotel voucher. Some airlines, often those charging very
low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers.
Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather
or something else beyond the airline's control. Contrary to
popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers
whose flights are delayed or canceled. Airlines typically provide
meal or hotel vouchers only for extenuating circumstances and only on
return trips, not the originating outbound flights.
5. If all else fails, ask to see the customer service agent.
you are not getting an acceptable resolution for your problem, ask to
see the airline’s customer service representative. Often, these
are very experienced, former gate agents who have the familiarity and
authority to make arrangements that a gate agent may lack.
Customer service agents are usually the only people who can authorize a
switch to another airline, hotel vouchers or alternate
transportation such as a bus. Be sure that they spell out all your
options and then decide. In a weather delay, you may be better off
getting a guaranteed flight the next morning rather than a stand-by
allocation on the next (already overbooked!) flight.
6. Notify everyone down the line.
sure to notify people or organizations expecting you. Call the hotel,
car rental company, limo service, business associates, or friends
picking you up, especially in cases where the next available flight is
not until the following day. Guaranteed reservations or not,
hotels and rental companies may classify you as a no-show and give
away your room or car and have none available the next day. The
limo service may charge you if they’ve sent a driver to the
airport only to find you missed your flight. Be sure you have a complete
itinerary with phone numbers and confirmation codes you may need
to look up your information.
7. Airline bumping.
routinely sell more tickets for a flight than they have seats. This is
known as "overbooking" and, contrary to common sense, is not
illegal and does help to keep airplane tickets cheaper by attempting to
account for the inevitable no-shows on every flight. In cases
where the airline overestimates the number of no-shows, the airline must
get some passengers to voluntarily give up their seats and/or
deny boarding to the late arrivers. Airlines have complete latitude as
to what to offer to get passengers to voluntarily give up their
seats. These usually take the form of a guaranteed seat on the
next flight (which may be the following day) and a voucher for $100
or more off a future ticket. If you’re booked on an overbooked
flight and have flexible travel plans, feel free to negotiate. It is
not uncommon to receive a first- or business-class upgrade on the
next flight along with a meal voucher. If you don’t like the deal,
don’t take it.
If the airline fails to get
enough passengers to volunteer to give up their seats, they may deny
boarding to some unlucky passengers. If that unlucky passenger is
you, then it is helpful to know your rights.
are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges alternate
transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final
destination (including later connections) within one hour of your
original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
the airline arranges alternate transportation that is scheduled to
arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your
original arrival time (between one and four hours on international
flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way
fare to your final destination, with a $200 minimum.
the alternate transportation is scheduled to get you to your
destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or
if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements
for you, the compensation doubles (200% of your fare, $400 minimum).
are always permitted to keep your original ticket and use it on another
flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can
request an "involuntary refund" for the ticket for the flight you were
bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment
for your inconvenience. Keep in mind that you must meet the airline's
requirements for ticketing check-in deadlines. Airlines are free
to set their own check-in deadlines which may be as low as 10 minutes or
as long as an hour or more before takeoff. These rules do not
apply to planes with 60 or fewer seats, international flights to the
United States or charter flights. As mentioned earlier, the easiest way
to avoid being bumped is getting to the airport early, leaving some
other unlucky traveler to be the bumped passenger.
In Mind...Delays, cancellations, and bumps are much easier to handle
when you’ve elected not to check baggage. When all your belongings
are with you, it is a simple matter to grab your stuff and hop on
the next available flight. With your bags in the belly of the plane, you
often have very limited options. So remember to pack light and
choose a bag that meets airline carry-on requirements.