When Things Go Wrong During Travel (And They Will)

At this point in my life, I’ve flown well over a million miles.  I know I haven’t seen “everything”, but I’ve had more mechanical and weather delays than I can count, I’ve had an emergency landing or two, and I’ve hit my head on the ceiling of a lavatory hard enough to see stars during turbulence.  I’ve shown up at the airport on the wrong day (booked my ticket wrong) and done the same with hotels.  After a while, flight delays are just part of a day at the office.

Through it all, I’ve learned a lot, and most of it was the hard way.  My father (Poppa Pizza) flew his million miles many moons ago when his job required that he traveled extensively.  I just assumed my father had been through enough of those battles to not get himself stuck in a bad position.  I was wrong.

Poppa Pizza was bound for DC from the west coast.  He landed in DFW later in the evening, had a short layover and then boarded his flight for DC.  There was weather in the area and the captain kept them well informed while they sat on the tarmac, but they ultimately returned to the terminal and everyone got off the plane.  They all hopped in line, my father included, at the gate to find out what their options were (oh, boy).  Once he got to the front of the line he learned that there weren’t any other flights to IAD that night and he had been moved to a flight in the morning.

He headed over to the Admirals Club in the D terminal thinking he might be able to sleep there for the night.  The club had already closed, but they obviously weren’t going to let him sleep there.  So, he rolled up a sweater he had with him and curled up on the floor in the terminal and slept there.

He considered asking about the cots he had seen in another terminal, but figured they cost money to rent.  My father is, using a kind word, frugal (unless it involves his children, for which I’ll always be thankful).  He checked the Minute Suites in the D terminal but it was already full (and $100 a night).

Somehow, when Poppa Pizza told me this story, I managed not to curse at him.  All it would have taken was one phone call to me and I could have had him a room somewhere near the airport.  God love him, he didn’t want to disturb me.

What can we learn from this?

Be prepared!  Here’s a few things to consider when traveling:

  1. Always make sure you have a copy of your reservation and the phone number for the airline with you.  If you have elite status, make sure you have that number available.  Well before your plane heads back to the terminal after a long delay, call the airline and find out what’s going on.  See what other flight alternatives you have.
  2. If you have access to the internet on your smart phone, keep an eye on your flight using the airline’s app or website, or using an app like Flight Track.
  3. When I’m traveling through or to an airport I’m not familiar with, I like to research what hotels are close by.  When there’s a weather problem, rooms will go fast at the nearby hotels (like the two Hyatts at DFW).  You may have to expand your search a bit to find occupancy.
  4. This is a tough one to time correctly, but as soon as your sure you’re not going to make it home, call/use the web to book a hotel room immediately (assuming you don’t want to bunk beside Poppa Pizza).  The best solution is to use your smart phone to call the airline to get rebooked while you’re surfing the web or using a hotel app to book a room.  Multi tasking!
  5. Consider alternate airports to help you get home.  In the case of IAD (Washington-Dulles), were it earlier in the evening my father could have considered DCA or BWI (RIC if he was desperate to get home).
  6. If your delay is mechanical, politely push the airline to move you to a competitor’s flight.  There’s no guarantee, but passengers with elite status and those with the right amount of honey (instead of vinegar) have a good shot at getting what they want.  Know your alternatives.  Who else flies to where you’re going?  Know that airlines like Southwest generally won’t move you to a legacy carrier like American or United (and vice versa).

And, in case of general craziness, consider these other options:

  1. Keep copies of your passport somewhere with you.  I have copies loaded into my 1Password file, a secure password service I use.
  2. Keep some money separate from the rest of your cash in case of theft or other loss.
  3. Make sure all the phone numbers you need are programmed into your phone before you leave.  If you’re traveling to a foreign country, make sure you have the appropriate local numbers for airlines and hotels.
  4. In case of lost luggage, make sure you have any medication you need in a carry-on bag.  Consider a change of clothing in there as well even if the bag is small.  When we travel as a family of 4, my carry-on is a bit different than when I travel for business.  It contains one outfit, bathing suits and medicine for each member of the family.

There are countless tips and tricks to help you be prepared for the unexpected.  These are just a few.  The bottom line here is that you can have a meaningful impact on your own delay/discomfort.  The people that wait for a solution will generally receive the worst ones.

I love my dad dearly, but don’t end up like Poppa Pizza.

What are your favorite tips for dealing with travel disruptions?

The post When Things Go Wrong During Travel (And They Will)  The Best of the Rest For Saturday, May 30th, 2015 was published first on Pizza In Motion.

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  1. Also, it helps to remember that, for most people, including those that sit up front and enjoy suites, occasionally spending a night curled up in a terminal is an inconvenience, not a tragedy, and certainly not something that should lead to being cursed at…

    1. It may be an inconvenience, but when I can solve that inconvenience for my 70-year old father for free with a simple phone call, I’m upset when I can’t repay him when he could use a bit of help. I would also disagree with the assertion that’s it’s an inconvenience (it’s not a tragedy, either) to sleep on a concrete floor. But, hey, we all have different levels of comfort.

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