It’s no secret that air travel has been a mess lately. Between flight delays, lost luggage, and flight cancellations, travel has gotten more complicated. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it though! As seasoned travelers, we have come together to create this list of ways to avoid disaster in this uncertain time and still be able to travel and have a wonderful time. These must-read tips will help you prepare for and avoid potential travel disasters.
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Tips To Avoid Travel Disasters
Book Flights Directly With The Airline
If you’re planning a trip this year and are worried about dealing with crazy flight delays, lost luggage, or other mishaps, one of the simplest and best things that you can do to prepare starts when you’re booking your flight. It is essential with the current state of travel to book your flights directly through the airline instead of using a third party.
When searching for cheap flights, you’ll likely come across several different booking platforms like Priceline, Expedia, or Orbitz. However, to make sure that you receive the best service in the case that something goes haywire, make sure to book your flight directly with the airline. If you book through a third party and there is a flight cancellation, neither the airline nor the third party will want to take responsibility because they have someone else they can blame the issue on.
When you book directly with the airline, you can reach out directly to the airline’s customer service in the case of delays or other travel troubles. When booking through a third party, you may have to reach out to their customer service representatives, who then work with the airline on your behalf. This can lead to delays in getting issues resolved, as well as a lot of back-and-forth between the booking platform and the airline when trying to decide who is responsible for assisting the customer, refunding them, or making up for the mishap.
In the end, the money saved by booking through a third party is not worth the headache it will cause if there is any delay or cancellation with your flight.
Contributed by Sydney from A World in Reach
Show Up On Time Even If Your Flight Is Delayed
Sometimes when your flight is delayed, you will get a message hours in advance. When you get that message saying that your flight will be delayed, you might think – “ah, at least I won’t have to wait in the airport now!”
But that’s not actually the case – no matter what the delay message says, you should still be at the airport for your original departure/check-in/bag drop/gate closing time.
There are a few reasons for this. More than once, I’ve seen other people who were denied being checked in and their checked-in bags were refused because they arrived at the counter for later than their original flight check-in time because they had heard that their flight was delayed.
One main reason that you should still arrive at the original time is that the flight got delay can change at a moment’s notice and all of the sudden be on time again. If you aren’t already at the airport, you will miss your flight. For example, if it’s a weather-related delay, the storm can pass sooner and the plane can make up for lost time; if it’s because of staffing problems, they might be able to locate a replacement crew member more quickly than they originally thought.
So, pretty much, if you get the message that your flight might be delayed, it doesn’t mean that you can sleep longer – it just means that you have to be prepared to wait in the airport for that much longer.
On the same note, if your flight is delayed, don’t go too far away from the gate when waiting for your delayed flight. You wouldn’t want to run all through the airport when hearing your name on the PA and risk missing your flight, would you?
Contributed by Kristine of Wanderlust Designers
Plan Ahead For Cancelled or Delayed Flights
One of my best tips for avoiding travel disasters is planning for the possibility of canceled or delayed flights. This tip is especially important if you have multiple connections or a short layover.
Whenever I have flights planned I always do a little bit of research a few days before my flight.
When flying from my home airport, I’ll be sure to have a few backup flights identified that I can book in the event that my original flight gets canceled or significantly delayed. Just so that I feel more prepared in case of an emergency or flight cancellation.
In situations where I have a layover in another city, I’ll look into affordable hotels near the airport that I’m transiting through. This research includes looking into transportation options to get to and from this hotel.
Remember, everybody else from that canceled flight will be trying to rebook as well, so the faster you can log into the airplane’s app and rebook your flight the better.
Last year I experienced a flight cancellation while transiting through Phoenix. Fortunately, I had already identified a nice hotel near the airport and ended up having a great time finding fun things to do in Phoenix until my rebooked flight the next morning.
With flight delays and cancellations becoming more frequent, having backup flight and hotel options will make travel significantly easier and much less stressful when things don’t go as planned.
Contributed by Eden of Rock a Little Travel
Consider Taking a Cruise Instead
To avoid the stress of flying altogether, a simple solution is not to fly at all! But that doesn’t mean only vacationing in your own country. If you live within driving distance of a cruise port, you can explore the world by cruise ship.
While a cruise from Florida to the Bahamas or the Caribbean is an obvious choice, there are over 20 different ports where you can start a cruise in the US, including those in Texas, California, New York, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Washington, Virginia, and Maryland. Elsewhere in the world, you can cruise from many cities that may be close to where you live.
You could even take a Transatlantic or Transpacific cruise and spend some time exploring faraway destinations as well as enjoying your time on board the ship.
Checking in for a cruise is super easy. Port staff will come and take your luggage right out of your car and you won’t have to touch it again until you head to your stateroom and find it waiting for you. With fewer security checks than flying and no luggage weight restrictions, you’ll be on board in as little as 30 minutes from when you arrive at the port.
Cruises are great for people with young children or mobility requirements as you’re able to bring all of the equipment you need and there’s a lot of space to store pushchairs or mobility aids like electric scooters.
If you haven’t considered a cruise yet, perhaps now is the time to do it.
Contributed by Jenni of Cruise Mummy
Consider Driving or Taking a Train Instead
If you are only traveling to a destination that is less than 8 hours away by car or train. It may be worthwhile to consider a different form of transportation than flying due to the current airline situation. This is important especially if you have limited time at your destination or if it is important that you are there in time for a certain event.
Train travel can be painless and a wonderful experience, if you have the option to travel by train, it may be your ideal choice. However, for those not traveling within Europe, reliable train travel may not be an option.
If you are able to drive the distance instead, then you can ensure that you will arrive on time. When you combine the time it takes to get to the airport, wait in the security line, wait at your gate, actually fly, and then wait for your bags to get off the carousel; driving the distance won’t feel like a much longer day if you can drive to your destination in a day!
Recommended by Elizabeth of Two Week Traveller
Make a Plan For Alternative Transportation if Possible
Create a Trip Planner
One way to manage and keep track of your trip, especially when things don’t go as planned, is to have a trip planner created. A trip planner can include your bookings, confirmation numbers, important phone numbers, essential dates, and many other things to make your trip feel more organized. Having a list of your bookings makes it easier to reschedule and reorganize your trip if your flight gets delayed or cancelled. It’s frustrating enough to deal with this situation, so you’ll be glad you don’t have to look for information in all your booking emails and T&Cs.
I like creating a trip planner using a calendar template with all our travel plans. I note which activities, transport, restaurants or accommodation we have booked for each day, and what’s been paid or not. To save time, you can simply forward booking emails to TripIt to create your itinerary automatically.
I recommend saving it in multiple places: for example, on your phone as a note or image, in your email inbox, but also as a printed version in case your phone battery dies and you have no access to the Internet.
I usually include the details for all my accommodation, transport, rental cars, tours, and travel insurance. In addition, I note their email and phone numbers and any information I found about cancellation or claims (e.g. process or timings). It makes it easier to notify them about delays or any issues. Unfortunately, you rarely have good surprises. But if you’re lucky, you may receive helpful tips from local operators who may have met other tourists in your situation before.
Contributed by Eloise of My Favourite Escapes
Be Prepared to Spend More Time at the Airport
One of the many annoyances of delayed flights is the time you have to spend at the airport. What was supposed to be two and a half hours before the departure, or even more these days with all the crowds we see at the airports, can quickly turn into more than five hours.
If you are flying out of a big airport, you can pass the time walking around the airport and exploring the shops. However, if you are backpacking Europe and flying budget airlines, you will probably fly out of a smaller airport with limited entertainment choices.
Coincidentally, many smaller airports will only let you use the wifi for free for up to two hours a day. You will quickly realize that is not nearly enough for long delays, especially if you travel internationally and can’t use your data plan.
That is why you should be prepared to spend a lot of time at the airport if there are delays. One way you can do this is by bringing a book or a Kindle to stay entertained even without the internet.
Which one you choose will depend on your preferences. If you were planning on reading a book throughout your vacation, it might be better to download a few and store them on your Kindle. On the other hand, you do not need any electricity to read a traditional book. That is definitely an advantage once everybody is trying to charge their electronics on rare charging stations at the airport.
If you aren’t a reader, there are other ways to pass the time in the airport. Puzzle books like crosswords and sudoku puzzles can also help pass the time. Another thing to consider is using the extra time to FINALLY delete old and extra photos off of your phone or organize the files on your laptop.
Contributed by Natali from She’s Abroad Again
Plan to Arrive a Few Days Early
If you’ve been watching the news headings about the recent travel chaos, there is always a short segment on someone who has missed a wedding or funeral. My heart absolutely breaks for them, which is the point of the segment; to show that some people are frustrated about their disrupted holiday plans, but there are those missing out on big life events. However, there are things that you can do when you are planning your trip in order to not miss these important events.
With flights being delayed and cancelled more regularly, it is important to plan for the worst case scenario. With this in mind, allow yourself at least an extra couple of days’ leeway before the event and fly out a bit earlier. Do not fly out the day before, and certainly not the morning of the event.
Flying out a bit earlier provides you with time to find alternative flights or other options to get there if the flight is delayed. The last thing you want to do is miss the event because that would be a true travel disaster.
Admittedly this may be tricky with taking time off from work or taking the kids out of school, but talk to your boss to see if you could work remotely, or take the additional leave. If your flight leaves when it should, then you have a couple of days of holiday to do something special. Taking these extra precautions will ensure that you don’t miss the major event that is the entire reason for the trip in the first place.
Contributed by Jenny of Explore Essaouira
Book Direct Flights If Possible
One way to avoid a travel disaster is to book direct flights when it is possible. With staff shortages at the airports and luggage going missing, it’s always a good idea to book direct flights, if you are planning on traveling during these busy times so that you have one less transfer to worry about.
Since a lot of flights are currently being canceled or delayed, it’s better to book direct flights, so the chances of missing your connecting flight due to delays or having just one out of multiple flights canceled are lower. When you are planning on checking in luggage, there will also be a lower chance of your luggage going missing, as it won’t have to be transferred from one plane to the next.
If your closest airport doesn’t have any direct flights to the destination of your choice, consider alternative airports. You can also plan a bit of extra travel time and travel to an airport further away. And in case you are flexible with the destination you are traveling to, you can also look at destinations that you can reach via a direct flight.
Contributed by Becky of Becksplore Travel
Download the Airline’s App
If you’re traveling by air and own a smartphone, you should definitely download your airline’s app. Most of the major US carriers have one nowadays. Even if you prefer not to book your tickets through the app (for security preferences), there are many ways in which they make air travel easier.
One reason is that you can check in for your flight via the app. This is really handy when you’re traveling and don’t have a computer handy or you simply want a quick check-in process. Secondly, you can display your boarding pass from the app rather than needing to print out a hard copy that you may lose while walking around the airport. You can also use the app for your in-flight entertainment on some airlines which is an awesome perk. Since some airlines are moving away from having in-seat entertainment, you’ll want to have entertainment options for your flight.
The airline apps are especially useful if things start to go sideways. You can get automatic notifications of gate changes and flight delays via the app instead of having to constantly watch the gate boards or listen to the airport announcements which could be difficult to hear.
Bonus: The information in the app typically gets updated before the departure gate information does.
You can also use the app to investigate your flight’s incoming plane. Many apps will tell you where your plane CURRENTLY is, so you can see if it was delayed at its previous stop. Even if your flight is listed as “on time,” if the incoming plane is delayed, it’s a pretty safe bet that your flight will be delayed accordingly.
If worse comes to worst and your flight gets canceled, you can use the app to rebook yourself onto a different flight. This will be a much quicker and less stressful option than standing in the giant customer service line!
Also, if there is an issue with your flight, it is much easier to contact customer service by using the messaging function in each airline’s app instead of waiting on the phone for a long time.
Contributed by Lisa Garrett of Waves and Cobblestones
Avoiding Luggage Disasters
Pack Your Essentials in Your Carry On
If you are traveling with checked luggage, it is important to pack your carry-on in a way that will allow you to still be able to enjoy your trip if your luggage gets delayed or lost in order to avoid a travel disaster. Make sure to pack a full outfit and sleep clothes in your carry-on bag in case your checked bag gets lost on your way to your vacation destination.
I learned this lesson the hard way on my first solo trip when my flight from the US to France was canceled due to bad weather and my checked bag did not make it with me on my rebooked flight. While fortunately my checked bag was not lost forever and was returned to me a day later, I was forced to wear the same clothes I had on the long flight, during my first day of exploring Paris.
Ideally, you should bring enough clothing essentials in your carry-on bag to get you through 1 or 2 days until either your bag is located or you are able to buy new clothes and undergarments. If you can fit them in your bag, it is also good to pack “nice to have” items like a toothbrush, hairbrush, and deodorant so that you don’t feel like a mess while waiting for your bag.
Depending on your destination and especially if you arrive late at night or on a weekend or holiday, it might be at least 1 to 2 days until stores are open and you are able to buy new clothes. Even if space is tight, at a minimum you should include at least one extra pair of socks and one change of undergarments and shirt in your carry-on. Make sure to also fit the most important items from your travel packing list in your carry-on, for example, if you are going to a beach destination, throw a bathing suit into your carry-on so that you can still enjoy the water while waiting for your bag.
Contributed by Matilda of The Travel Sisters
Keep Your Medications With You
Luggage delays are stressful enough, but things are going to be even worse if you don’t have your medication with you. So make sure that you pack enough medication to last you a few days or the entire trip in your carry-on luggage to avoid any medical issues in case of major delays or lost luggage.
Ideally, you should also have a copy of your prescription with you or the medication in its original packaging, so if security asks, you can prove that the medication is for your own personal use. The 100ml-sized bottle rule doesn’t always apply to liquid medication, but double-check with your airline or the airport(s) you’re traveling through about how to approach this with security.
Remember, if you’re carrying things like hypodermic needles, or certain types of medication, you might need a letter from your doctor to explain why, and you may be subject to extra screening so do allow a little bit more time – particularly if they are in your hand luggage.
Helen from The Wellness Nerd
Put an Airtag in Your Luggage
One way to help speed up the process of finding your luggage if it is delayed is to put an Apple Air Tag inside each of your checked baggage. While this won’t speed up the process of getting your bag on a plane to the correct destination, it will help you find your luggage once it has arrived at the correct airport.
If you’ve been paying attention to the recent luggage issues at airports, you may have seen photos of THOUSANDS of bags of “lost” luggage at airports like Amsterdam, Rome, Heathrow, and JFK. While your bag may eventually arrive at the correct location, it may be impossible to find amongst the hundreds of other lost bags.
By putting an Air Tag in your baggage, you will be able to work with the airport to quickly locate and retrieve your baggage as the Air Tag will ping to your phone and show you the exact location of the baggage. I’ve seen many stories of Air Tags saving the day, so now I don’t check a bag without one.
What To Do If Your Flight Is Delayed or Canceled
- Know your rights
- Communicated via the airline’s online messenger instead of calling
Know Your Rights in Europe
Many people don’t know that you can get compensation from the airline if your flight is canceled or delayed for over 3 hours. The airline is also obliged to provide you with your rights, overnight accommodation if your new flight is the following day, as well as food for delays.
Requesting compensation for your delayed or canceled flight is very easy. You don’t need to hire a company to do it for you, as they will charge you probably around 60% of the compensation. You just need to be familiar with the EU Reg 261 regarding compensations for flight delays and cancellations.
Most airlines will have their compensation page well-hidden on their website, but once you find it, it’s pretty easy to fill it in. Most airlines use a standard form and will just wire the compensation into your account, without even replying to your email.
One of my recent experiences with cancellations was when my flight back to London, from Madeira, was canceled. As it was an evening flight, there were no other options for that day, so I had to spend another day on the island. The airline I originally booked with didn’t have any flights to London Gatwick the following day either, so I ended up booking a new flight with Easyjet and requesting compensation in conformity with EU Reg 261. As these things do happen, I just enjoyed another day on the island, enjoying another plate of delicious Madeiran food and cheering with another glass of poncho for an extra night.
Contributed by Joanna of The World in My Pocket
Trisha of Mexico Insider also has experience dealing with EU 261:
I’ve had enough of flight delays, especially the last 2 years. I hate that nobody explains things or helps you figure out stuff. They just go straight to the solution of you buying a new ticket, period.
Last year, my flight from Mexico to Madrid was canceled because of COVID. I had two dogs on board with me and I was already in Mexico City when they announced the cancellation. Most staff will tell you to book a new ticket or wait for further announcements but nobody will tell you that you can get a refund.
According to the EU 261 regulation and policy, we are entitled to compensation when our flights have been canceled, missed connection, or even just delayed for long hours. This regulation is applicable to delayed/canceled/missed connections even if it’s a budget airline or a big carrier.
All compensations are also applicable to package tour bookings, business trips, and flights that were booked using miles/points. The compensation is not a refund per se and the EU has a website where you can calculate the amount of compensation based on the flight route.
Of course, different regions have different rules for refund and compensation but my point is, wherever you are flying to, make sure you know your rights as a passenger. Research and educate yourself – you’d be surprised at what you will find out!
Understanding the EU Laws
Laws set by the EU in 2005, have given consumers the right to ask for compensation in case of flight, delays, cancellations, or if a passenger was denied boarding with a confirmed seat. Therefore, airlines causing the disruption are responsible to grant passengers their rights. This includes passengers departing from an EU country or passengers on an EU airline departing from a third country bound for the EU.
This applies to shorter flights with a minimum delay of 3 hours and long-haul flights with a flight delay of 4 hours. Airlines have to care for passengers whose flights are significantly delayed. The airline has to provide a suitable option or compensation if you missed your transfer flight because of a flight delay and your next possible flight option was given to you 12 hours later.
Contact the airline as soon as possible. Go to the airline counter and speak to a representative and ask for a resolution to the problem. If the airline counters are overrun, try to contact the airline hotline or use the messaging feature on the airline’s app.
If you have to take a hotel because of significant flight delays, do so and pay with a credit card, keep the
bill, and keep it in your records to submit a compensation form to the airline later on. If the airline refuses, for whatever reason, to comply, you have the option to contact the arbitration board, or you can try to get help from an online flight right service (although they do take a large portion of the compensation as payment).
Contributed by Paul from paulmarina.com
Know Your Rights in the United States
While the United States Department of Transportation doesn’t have the same compensation requirement as the European Union, you do have rights as a passenger in the case of a travel disaster or flight issue. In order to be able to receive compensation for delays and cancelations, it is important to know your rights ahead of time so you know when you are eligible for compensation.
There are two places that you will need to go to learn about what your rights are. The first, and most important, is to read the terms and conditions established by the airline that you are flying with. Usually, what you can and can’t be compensated for is directly laid out in the terms and conditions when you initially book your flight. I have linked some of the major US airlines’ T&C pages below (Also referred to as a Contract of Carriage).
- Frontier (Rule 18) Terrible Policy Though
- Spirt (Starting at page 41)
- Jet Blue (Starting at page 36 “Failure to Operate as Scheduled”)
- Southwest (Starting at Page 48)
- Alaskan Airlines
The second place that you can go to learn your rights as a passenger who was not provided the service that you bought is the Department of Transportation itself. The Department of Transportation has a really simple page that discusses what you are eligible for in the event of flight delays and cancelations as well as what you are eligible for if you are bumped from a flight or the flight was oversold and caused you to get bumped.
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