Start browsing any travel forum and the most common questions you’ll see all revolve around one main topic: what to do when a trip goes wrong. And surprise, surprise, the airport is the biggest culprit. Below we break down the top three cases where wrong turns at the airport can turn a dream vacation into a nightmare, and show you how to cope, or better yet, how to avoid them.
You miss your flight
Cope with it: Rule number one of any wrong turn: don’t panic. Some airlines have “flat tire” policies, which waive fees and adjust fares when a traveler needs to rebook a flight due to factors outside their control. These policies are off the books, however, and vary from airline to airline, so you’ll need to do some independent research before each flight. Once you determine you won’t be able to make your flight, call the airline immediately, and keep in mind that because flat tire policies are undocumented, the solution to your problem lies entirely in the hands of the agents you speak to…so be nice.
Avoid it: Always get to the airport well in advance of your flight’s estimated departure time. One hour is recommended for domestic flights, two for international.
Your flight is cancelled
Cope with it: Before any flight, read up on the airline’s cancellation policy regarding compensation. Airlines won’t pay up unless you ask, so do your homework. After a cancellation is announced, call the airline while you wait in line. With a little luck, you could get rebooked over the phone before you reach the gate attendant. For extra help, use apps like TripIt or OnTheFly which can help you find new flight options. With any agent, in person or on the phone, be polite, but firm, and do your darnedest to get booked on a different airline. If it’s late in the day, book a hotel room sooner rather than later – they’ll be in high demand.
Avoid it: Most cancelled flights come to be by virtue of inclement weather or maintenance issues. Try to avoid traveling during snowstorm season, and stick to morning flights. Flight delays have a domino effect, so flying early in the day lessens your chance of running into problems.
Your luggage isn’t at baggage claim
Cope with it: Remember the cardinal rule: don’t panic. Most delayed bags get returned within a few days, or even a few hours. File your claim at the airport and leave your hotel’s address and phone number with the attendant. Your bag will be delivered once it arrives, and you may also receive reimbursement for unexpected expenses, depending on the airline’s policy. If the airline actually loses your bag, get a written claim for damages, review the airline’s policy, and refer to your packing list and receipts for reimbursement..
Avoid it: Your checked bag can’t be lost if you simply don’t have one. Learn how to pack light and travel with only a carry-on. You’ll shave over an hour off your airport wait time by skipping the baggage check and baggage claim lines.