Summer Air Travel: 3 Things You Need To Know.
You’re traveling by air this summer? Good. But there are a few things you should know and be sure of BEFORE you get to the airport. And, of course, some shortcuts and time-savers and more things you should be aware of once you get to the airport to avoid an ugly surprise on check-in.
Because it’s not enough to just show up on time any more. In fact, without attending to the things I list below, you’re really gambling with your trip and whatever you’d planned at your destination. Airlines typically have higher load factors in the summer, which means fewer seats available on every jet, and this summer has started with record-breaking crowds vying for seats.
Combine that with tight customer service staffing and you have the makings of a travel headache–which is preventable. Read on.
1. Get your seat. Yes, I know: you booked your flight. That’s not the same thing as having a seat. Made your reservation on-line? Be sure there is a specific seat listed–and check again 48 hours prior to departure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the gate, trying to look inconspicuous, as an agent tries to explain to a passenger that no, they don’t have a seat assignment–and the flight is overbooked. Often, when reservations are made way in advance, there’s isn’t a specific seat listed–or between “way in advance” and the day of travel, the seat assignment disappears. To prevent that: print your boarding pass at home with the seat assignment–don’t wait until airport check-in. If you don’t see a seat assignment on your on-line boarding pass–get on-line and reserve a seat, even if you have to call the airline’s toll free number to do so.
2. Know your status. That is, are you protected from cancellations or delays? If you have a deadline at your destination–say, a time sensitive event (wedding, graduation, business meeting, etc) or follow-on reservations (a resort or cruise booking, or flight on another carrier), what protection do you have in the event of a delay or cancellation?
Be aware that most airlines offer compensation or modified travel in the event of situations within their control (say, flight cancellations or mechanical delays), but most people don’t seem to know that airlines and federal regulations do not stipulate any accommodation for weather-related delays or cancellations. Thunderstorms at a major hub, in summer–what are the chances? Pretty darn good, unfortunately. And along with rain, hail, and damaging winds, storms usually bring delays, cancellations and misconnects.
Are you prepared to sleep on the floor of the terminal if weather delays you inbound and the last flight of the day to your destination has already departed? Don’t plan tight connections–or in my opinion, any connections to the last flight of the day, for exactly that reason. But if you must, be prepared to find an airport hotel on your own or, sleep in the terminal. Ugh.
One further note about “knowing your status,” and this is important: did you buy your ticket from an online source other than the airline itself? If so, read the “conditions of carriage” before you agree to the purchase of a ticket: many of the larger online travel sites sell bargain basement seats–but they are for a specific flight, with no recourse if you miss the flight. In other words, the deeply discounted seat does not come with any airline follow-on obligation–that’s how the online site got the cheap pricetag they sold you on. But again, if you misconnect for any reason, your travel is over.
No “stand-by” on the next flight or travel at another time or date. You agreed to buy a particular seat on a particular day and if you’re not in that seat when the plane departs, you have no further recourse with the airline–and good luck with the online agency you booked your travel through.
In both of these cases: trip insurance. It’s not that expensive and may be your only way to protect yourself from large out-of-pocket expenses due to missed bookings and events at your destination, or overnight delays enroute.
3. Damage control: when things start to go haywire due to delays, weather, cancellations or diversions, you need to act immediately. Before you leave home, do two simple things to ensure that you’re first in line when it comes to salvaging your travel plans.
First, sign up for whatever notification app your airline offers. Not only will this automatic function give you an immediate heads-up on your assigned gate and departure time via text message or email, many major airlines will also notify you of a cancellation or significant departure or arrival delay long before the delay appears on monitors in the terminal.
Why is that important? The advanced notice will allow you to find the next available flight to your destination and then pursue a confirmed seat before your fellow passengers even know there’s a reason to change. First come, first served when it comes to accommodating passengers from a cancelled flight.
Which brings us to the second must-do: pre-program the airline’s re-booking number into your phone for quick access. The re-booking number is NOT the same as the reservations or flight information phone numbers. Find it on your airline’s website or call their toll-free number and ask for it, then keep it handy on your trip. The alternative to calling the re-booking number is to stand in a long line of irritated passengers waiting for a few agents to fix things one at a time. Skip that–get on the re-booking line at the first sign of trouble.
Want to play Superman? Turn your cell phone on as soon as allowed after landing. You’ll be notified by text or email of any cancellation on your itinerary–then you can call the re-booking number on taxi-in and start damage control to save your trip. Same goes for the hours before your origination–keep listening for the text alert regarding your flight. Even if things go well, you’ll want to know what gate you’re scheduled to depart from. In all cases, have your reservation info handy for re-booking–an agent on the phone or face-to-face can access your itinerary instantly if you can provide the record identifier (usually a series of letters and/or numbers) on first contact.
It’s going to be a busy summer for air travel this year, with record crowds and limited customer service options in the case of weather-related delays. But these three simple steps will put you well ahead of the crowd all rushing to rebook flights or deal with a delay. Secure your seat, know your options, stay informed and be ready to rebook.
Number one above–seat assignment–is even more crucial if you’re traveling with others and want or need to sit together. Number two, know your passenger status and your options. And finally, line up your damage control options and beat the rush to re-book or make changes as the situation develops.
Once you’re on board and we’re off the gate, your work is done and I’ll take care of the rest of the flight. And as I say after every welcoming P.A., “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”