Airlines have some of the worst reputations in terms of customer service. When a flight becomes delayed, cancelled or changed, a traveler can expect to be shuffled around, wait for hours, or given vague or inaccurate information on when the problem will be solved. Few things are as frustrating to travelers when their flight is delayed, cancelled, or changed.
The way to handle airline delays, cancellations and changes is to take charge of the problem on your own instead of waiting for the airline or someone else to do it for you. Here are some tips from The Traveling Professor on the best way to handle airline delays, cancellations and changes.
Buy Tickets Directly from the Airlines: This is probably the most important tip. When buying tickets from secondary sources like Expedia and Orbitz, airlines will most likely refer you back to those sources when there is a problem with a flight. That just adds another layer of bureaucracy on the process of resolving an issue thus delaying refunds, changes or general resolutions to the problem at hand.
When a Flight is Delayed, Do This First: In a situation where a flight is delayed overnight or cancelled, your first move should be to call the hotel and book a room. Don't wait, because every minute you twiddle your thumbs, those rooms are being snapped up by every other traveler whose flight is cancelled or delayed. And don't wait for the airline to book a room for you either. You don't want to hang around an airport for hours, or even worse, sleep in an airport overnight because you tried to save some money on a room or because you thought the airline would take care of things.
Have a Travel Insurance Policy: Credit cards that have trip insurance or even an inexpensive annual travel insurance policy covers the cost of meals and lodging due to flights cancelled or delayed for certain reasons. Use that insurance. Some insurance policies even cover the cost of flights booked on another airline if an original flight is cancelled or delayed.
Avoid Budget Airlines: All airlines lack stellar customer service. In general, customer service for budget airlines is even worse.
Know the Rules: For instance, when is a non-refundable ticket refundable? If your flight is changed for more than a certain amount of hours, the traveler is due a refund even though they hold a non-refundable ticket. For instance, The Traveling Professor had a non-refundable ticket on a return from his small group tour to Scotland. A month before departure, the airline changed the return flight from 07:30 in the morning to noon. Because the change was more than 4 hours, a refund was issued for the entire ticket even though the ticket was "non-refundable".
Be Calm, Polite and Patient When Dealing with Customer Service Reps: It will not help you to yell, scream or be demanding to customer service representatives. The Professor has always had the best success when a calm, cooperative, "let's solve this problem together" attitude is taken. It doesn't work all the time, but there is never a time to be rude or demeaning to a customer service representative.
Have Airline Elite or Lounge Status: For instance, The Professor has American Airlines "Platinum Status" due to all the airline miles flown. He also has a credit card that provides Admiral's Club lounge access. It is MUCH easier to deal with an agent in the Admiral's Club than it is at an airline agent desk at the gate. The lounge is also a haven when there are short delays (less than 4 hours) for a flight. Not everyone has lounge access and it is not cheap to get it. Some premium credit cards offer lounge access, travelers can pay an annual fee for lounge access, some airlines offer daily passes. Travelers who are frequent flyers may find value in getting annual lounge subscriptions.