Air travel is absolutely nuts this summer.  Planes are full but flight and cabin crews are all over the place.  Airports, airlines, baggage handlers, fuel workers, and reservation agents are all being pushed to (and past) the breaking point.

I wrote a post a while ago about travel tips to thrive during this crazy summer.  If you didn’t read it, you should, because ad revenue it’s important information.

I came back from a wonderful trip to Iceland recently (here are three things that I loved about my trip) and, sure enough, encountered some flight issues.  I wanted to walk you through how I approached it in hopes that it could help.

a plane parked at an airport

Here’s what happened.

1. When I landed from my international flight I found out my onward flight was canceled.

I was flying KEF-JFK and then JFK-DFW on Delta.  The KEF-JFK flight was a typical quick forgettable flight.  When our wheels touched terra firma at JFK, the fun began.

Remember in my travel tips post I mentioned “gardening” your reservations?  That includes during your trip.

When I took my phone off airplane mode I received a notification from Delta saying my onward flight had been canceled.  This was annoying because I really wanted to get home that day and had booked an itinerary with a 5-hour layover at JFK to give me plenty of time to deal with delays (we had a slight delay out of KEF).

(A friend reminded me that you can usually connect to in-flight wifi and visit the airline’s website to check your flight itineraries for free, great reminder T!)

To Delta’s credit, though, they made it easy to book myself on a flight for the next day.  I immediately confirmed myself for the first flight out the next morning before most people had even pulled out their phones and checked their itineraries.

Lesson 1: Check your onward travel as soon as you land, or throughout your flight if you purchased in-flight wifi.

I was confirmed on a flight for the next day and knew Delta would cover a hotel stay that night but I wanted to see if I could do better.

2. I searched for flight availability on my own, not just what was shown to me through the Delta app

Here was the thing: Delta only showed me flights leaving from JFK.  I knew that there are far more Delta flights from LaGuardia to DFW than from JFK, so I hopped on ExpertFlyer to see if there was any availability on the LGA-DFW route (I could’ve done close to the same thing for free by using Google Flights).  Even though it’s a different airport, most airlines consider LGA/JFK/EWR to be “co-terminous” and can book you out of one of the other airports in case of irregular operations.

Lesson 2: You are more creative than most airline systems, which prioritize the speed of search results over all possible options.  

Ok, great news, I found a flight that worked and had some availability!  But it wasn’t on Delta.

3. I know Delta and American have “interline” agreements during irregular operations

Interline agreements are usually not public-facing, but, generally speaking, many full-service airlines have agreements with each other to allow them to purchase space on other airlines during long delays or cancelations.  Delta, for example, has an interline agreement with American, although it went away for a while.

I didn’t search just for Delta flights, I also searched for American flights.  There was a nonstop American flight leaving from LGA in 3 hours!  Just because I’ve done it before, I know a taxi to LGA takes around an hour, which I felt was enough time to make the flight.

Lesson 3: Search other airlines for the chance it will help (sometimes it will not)

4. I called and messaged Delta to see which customer service channel responded first

(all of steps 1 and 2 happened before I had even left the airplane, just so you get a sense of how quickly I was working here)

When dealing with American, I find the Twitter team responds faster than the reservation agents over the phone.  Delta has moved to secure messaging via iPhone and Android, so I started that messaging process while calling Delta at the same time.  As I went through border control and waited for my checked baggage a phone agent answered.  I was very specific in how I phrased my opening statement:

Hi!  I’m Andy and I’m traveling on record locator [repeated my six-character code], can you let me know when you have it pulled up?  It’s already there?  Great.  As you can see, my onward flight today was canceled.  I’m booked on a flight tomorrow but really need to get back today.  I’m at JFK right now but found space on American flight [whatever flight number it was] for today out of LaGuardia.  Can you check if you can interline me?

Lesson 4: I did the “creative” work for the reservation agent and asked specifically for what I wanted instead of a general “is there any way to get me home today?” question

I was sweet and nice and everything and told her I was at the front of the taxi line at JFK waiting on her to tell me to hop in a cab.

After a couple of brief holds, she gave me the great news!  She was so nice and was happy she could take care of me and told me to get in that cab and everything should appear in the app in just a few minutes.

5. …and then it all went wrong anyway

I knew when American confirmed the ticket it would pop up in my AAdvantage app, where I could add my frequent flyer number to ensure I got the appropriate benefits from my status (I was checking 2 bags this trip).  When I saw the trip come up in the app something didn’t look right because it wouldn’t let me check in.

And that’s when I saw it.

The Delta agent had accidentally booked me on the American flight I found for the next day.

I quickly checked ExpertFlyer again and saw that the availability had dried up for the flight I wanted to take that day.  There was no other way to get me home that night.  Which brings us to a REALLY important lesson.

Lesson 5: Know when to quit

At that point, I told the taxi driver to take me into Manhattan and resigned myself to staying in New York City for the night.  There was no other flight to DFW that had any space on it.  Was I mad?  At that point, no, it was annoying but almost kind of hilarious because the Delta agent was such a rockstar except for that one small thing.  It would have been fruitless to call Delta back and explain things because American didn’t have space to sell to Delta any longer.

6. I wasn’t worried about hotel or taxi expenses because I knew I was protected by multiple layers

When it comes to irregular operations, it boils down to this: was the delay/cancellation the fault of the airline?  If it was, you’re entitled to compensation for the delay, oftentimes in the form of hotel and food vouchers.  If you incurred expenses on top of that you can file a claim with the airline to see what they will cover.  If the airline claims the delay/cancellation was weather-related you’re generally not entitled to compensation.  So claiming my expenses with Delta for the hotel I booked from the taxi was my first layer of protection.

I do not write about specific credit cards on this blog for a few reasons, but I will say this generally: know the benefits you have from every credit card you have.  I booked this trip using my American Express Platinum Card, which I know has trip delay and trip cancellation coverage.  That was my second layer of protection if Delta only repaid part of my expenses.

I also have an annual travel insurance policy through Allianz which has trip delay and trip cancellation protection.  That was my third layer of protection.

Lesson 6: protect your trips when air travel is as completely insane as it is right now


So what ended up happening?

I worked from my company’s New York office the next morning, made my way to LaGuardia, checked my bags on my American flight like usual, and flew home without any incident (they cleared my upgrade at the gate and then kicked me out of my upgraded seat later, which was fun but whatever).  I even got Loyalty Points for the flight!

Ok so what’s the point?

There are two points.  The first is you need to have a plan for when things go wrong, because, if you’re traveling this summer, there’s a really good chance something will go wrong.  The second point?  You can do everything right and it still gets messed up!  Have some grace this summer, know where your protection will come from, and focus on the memories of puffins from Iceland instead of how annoying that entire situation was!

You are always your own best advocate.  Know what’s possible and ask for what you want.  Make it easy for a reservation agent to help you and you’ll be amazed at how far they will bend to accommodate you!

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