The Travel Gods Worked Against Me Yesterday. No, For Me. No, Against Me. No, For Me.

Any business traveler that tells you the life of a road warrior is glorious is, well, lying.

Anybody who’s not a road warrior and thinks it’s the awesomest thing in the world, it’s really not.

I’ve been very lucky the last few years to get stuck in very few serious delays. Part of that is being prepared, so that when things do go sideways you know what your options are. Here’s a quick breakdown of a normal travel day turned sour:

After a full week on the road, I was headed home from Colorado Springs, connecting through DFW. There had been some pretty bad weather in both Chicago and Dallas on Thursday, so even though I didn’t see weather being an issue on Friday, I wanted to keep an eye on my flights. I don’t like being away from the family for very long, and I have a lot of travel scheduled. I also had promises to the kids and a wedding anniversary this weekend, so getting home Friday night was pretty important.

About 3 hours before my first flight I took a peek at the American Airlines app to see what was going on. In one of the recent revisions they added the ability to see where your plane was coming from. In this case, my plane was coming from DFW and was delayed about an hour. That meant a certain misconnect for me in DFW for the last flight of the night. Nothing against Dallas (other than the Cowboys) but I had no desire to spend the night in Dallas.

Key Point: Always keep an eye on your flights. You can use flight alert websites like FlightAware or the airline’s website/app.

Because I was out to lunch with a group of folks at the time I had to pirate my friend Randy’s phone to search for flight alternatives while I called the Executive Platinum desk. The agent confirmed what I already knew, that there was no other way to get from COS to the DC area on American that evening.

Using Randy’s iPhone (and knowing there were a lot of flight choices out of Denver on United) I asked the agent to put me on a 5pm-ish flight out of Denver that would actually get me home sooner than my original flight out of Colorado Springs would have. After about 10 minutes on hold the agent said she was having trouble ticketing it because of the different originating city. She suggested a US Airways flight out of Denver she could accommodate me on, but I couldn’t make the drive in time to catch that flight.

I recalled that United Airlines had frequent service between COS and DEN. Even though the United Airlines website wouldn’t price the connecting itinerary I wanted, it was definitely a legal connection. I read the flight numbers off to the agent and she was able to ticket it. It only gave me about 10 minutes of cushion to head back to our office, pack up my backpack, head to the airport and get through security. Both flights were on time and I was on my way. Things had started to turn from a negative to a positive!

Key point: If you need to be somewhere, it pays to be aware of alternate flights. Know which airlines use which airports as hubs, etc.

On my way to the airport I called United to verify they had received the ticket correctly from American Airlines. They added my elite information to check for upgrades and she also checked me in. I was at the airport shortly thereafter and sped through security. As I was boarding my flight to DEN, I noticed that my flight from Denver to DC was now showing a small delay. Ruh-Roh. By the time I landed, the delay was now 30 minutes. That’s not really major. What was concerning me is that the United app wouldn’t tell me where the plane was coming from, sometimes a sign of a larger problem. Almost as quickly as things had turned for the better, they started to creep into “uh-oh” territory again.

Key point: Always make sure your ticket is moved correctly from one airline to another. Don’t take the agent’s word for it. Get the record locator/confirmation # and verify it on the new airline’s website. Check to make sure it’s ticketed , not just a reservation. Once you let that agent go, it may take a while to get another agent up to speed to fix something.

A United customer service agent was having the same issue I was locating the inbound aircraft, and the delay had drifted to 80 minutes. I started checking alternative flights, but given the big presence United has in DEN, Southwest and Frontier were the only other options. Airlines like United don’t generally have agreements to move tickets to those airlines, so I knew I would have to buy a new ticket if things ultimately went sideways with United. I checked pricing just for giggles. Southwest wanted just over $500 one-way to get me home that evening. Uh, no.

There was one other flight United operated much later in the evening, so I had one more safety net. As things turned out, my original flight finally did surface with a real plane and the delay shortened up by 10 minutes. The delay ended stretching back out again, but we ultimately did take off, landing right around midnight.

What’s the key takeaway?

Regardless of what the airlines have actually promised you, the responsibility for getting you where you’re going really ultimately lies with you. I easily could have ended up anywhere but home last night. Though it might seem like a frustrating evening, it was a few small items that ended up being the difference between an airport hotel and my own bed, with my kids jumping on top of me to wake me up.

In the immortal words of my 3-year old son, Charlie, this morning, “Mommy. What’s that big lump in the bed?”


Leave a Reply