Seasoned travelers know that it’s just not a real travel experience if something doesn’t go wrong! The key to a great trip is expecting the unexpected. Some advance planning and thinking through scenarios can help you react to these common travel mishaps calmly and get past any challenges quickly. It's key to expect the unexpected while traveling. HashtagTravels writer Maureen really sums it up in one line- “Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way and you learn it once and then you never do it again.” With that in mind, here are 21 lessons we learned the hard way.
Download travel apps before you need them.
Don’t wait until you need to access an app to download it. Most airlines have an app that will notify you of delays, send important messages and link out to resources. For some airlines these apps even run free onboard entertainment. If you’ll be taking an Uber or Lyft get those set up before you need to book that first ride. Download hotel travel apps to select your room and utilize the digital key. Look up apps you might need ahead of your trip and have them ready!
Bookmark the airport website.
Desiree shares that airport websites are a great resource. Most have a full listing of flights for the day along with delays and cancellations. Not only have we found that these update faster than airline websites, but you’ll be able to see if the delays are an airport-wide issue or are limited to your airline.
You never know when you’re going to get delayed, stuck on the tarmac, or even be stranded in a blizzard! Packing nonperishables like granola bars, protein bars, fruit leather, dried fruit, and nuts will make you a rock star among your travel party. Plus, it saves money. All travel mishaps are easier to deal with when you aren't hangry.
Don’t skip travel insurance.
Across the board all of us have utilized travel insurance and wouldn’t travel (especially internationally) without it. Nasreen had an emergency root canal in Sri Lanka. Ciaran had a rough year where she broke her hip and her arm while traveling! Her premium travel insurance allowed her to change her reservations to first floor accommodations when she broke her hip. She was also able to upgrade to first class so that her broken arm could remain elevated with ice during her flight back to the States. Travel insurance reimbursed everything and there was a concierge line to call for assistance with emergency arrangements!
Spend delays in airline clubs or lounges.
Maureen raved about club passes for airports, especially during delays. Her teens were impressed with the free food, beverages and comfortable seating. During a delay, you’ll be more comfortable chilling in the club or catching a nap. Some lounges even have showers and other upgraded amenities.
Tip: Check your credit card perks for access to Priority Pass or other lounge programs. Some will grant you access and some cards focused on travel offer cash back towards the purchase of club memberships.
Allow more time than you’ll think you need for connections.
Gone are the days of cutting it close. We’ve all booked close connections in the past to avoid sitting in the airport. It’s no longer a safe bet. Book lengthy connections- especially for overseas trips. Desiree’s longer connections saved her on a recent Santorini trip. With multiple layovers (Atlanta to New York to London to Athens to Santorini) it almost fell apart when her first flight was delayed by hours. Since she had allowed a lot of extra time she was able to get out on a different flight and still make her next connection.
Spend a little more for a nonstop or easier itinerary.
The friendly skies have been a bit rough lately. If you’re looking at flight options and the nonstop is a little more expensive pay it! Reducing connections almost always ends up paying off in the long run. Saving $60 on your flight can backfire if a delay causes you to miss a connection and you miss a night at a nonrefundable hotel. It’s not the right time to pinch pennies. Look elsewhere in your budget to save.
Look at all of your airport options.
There may be an “obvious” large airport near your destination but look at all of the regional options. Ciaran often books her son’s flights back from college in Oregon to John Wayne Airport (SNA) instead of Los Angeles (LAX). The flight is direct so she’ll spend a little extra because she knows he’ll arrive without getting stranded in Las Vegas.
Consider booking through a travel agent.
Even if you like to do the initial planning and research yourself, consider booking the trip through a travel agent. You may spend a little extra up front but when things go wrong you’ve got a dedicated person ready to deal all of your travel mishaps. Not worrying about making calls and fighting for wi-fi bandwidth from a crowded airport sounds good to us.
Utilize status phone numbers when possible.
Look we’re not advocating being sneaky but if you have any type of status there are usually preferred phone numbers. Make sure you’ve got that Delta Gold/Diamond Medallion or Hilton Diamond Member toll-free line programmed in your phone. You might wait on hold for two minutes instead of two hours.
Speed is the name of the game when flights get delayed or cancel. Getting through faster can be the difference between you getting a seat on the next flight or it being sold out.
Don’t wait to call - even if you’re in line.
As we mentioned, speed is the name of the game. If your entire plane deboards because the crew timed out, don’t hesitate to call and stand in line. Nasreen did just this and was off the phone with a resolution while she was still 32nd in line at the airport. Start the process as quickly as possible to deal with travel mishaps quickly.
Utilize social media to reach customer service faster.
Many airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, and destinations have dedicated social media teams. Our writers have utilized Twitter (now X) frequently. We’ll tweet the airline and say “I'm having an issue for the flight and I'm DMing my confirmation number.” Nine times out of ten, you will have an answer from their social media team before you ever talk to an actual rep for the airline.
Maureen learned this after spending 8 hours on hold looking for missing luggage. Out of frustration she tweeted the airline about her travel mishap and within the hour got a private message with the location of her bag.
Try to avoid connecting in snowy spots in the winter.
Winter weather can wreak havoc on travel plans. If you’re looking at flights in January, connecting through Dallas is going to be a better bet than Denver or Baltimore. Even if there isn’t an active storm the deicing process slows down departures, especially if it isn’t done at the gate and planes line up. This is a travel mishap you can easily plan to avoid.
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Keep in mind that smaller airports have limited crew.
On that same note, smaller regional airports don’t usually have locally based crew. When flights land late at night that crew is usually the crew flying out on the morning flight. There are crew rest requirements. Nasreen learned quickly during her time in Vermont that booking the first flight out of Burlington in the winter led to delays when the crew arrived late. Often the second or third flight of the day had a better on-time track record. By working around predictable travel mishaps she was able to have smoother trips.
Start booking the back up plan ASAP.
If you know your flight delay or cancellation is going to strand you overnight don’t wait to make your Plan B. Maureen books a hotel of car ASAP because they go fast when a whole flight is making a backup plan. Sometimes the airline provides accommodations (depending on the reason for the cancellation) but even then they may not be able to help everyone. If you’ve got travel insurance just book yourself and put in for reimbursement whenever possible.
Airline employees and other employees you’ll encounter when you’re facing travel inconveniences are just that- employees. They usually have no control over the situation and power tripping or lecturing them or yelling won’t change anything. However, they usually have the power to not help you. Be kind. Ask for things nicely. Let them know you know it’s not their fault. Be positive. They may go out of their way to assist you and at a minimum you’re reducing stress for everyone involved.
Don’t forget to advocate for yourself.
Always be kind but don’t forget to advocate for yourself. Being nice to people doesn’t mean roll over and don’t ask for what you need. An airline codeshare connection gone wrong left Maureen stranded at Newark for several days. She finally got two of the airline reps in the same spot and politely demanded that they talk it out and book her on a flight. She was able to then get home after they finally all talked it out.
Know your airline’s Contract of Carriage.
Part of advocating for yourself is knowing what the airline provides (or doesn’t provide). Each airline has a Contract of Carriage that spells out what passengers are entitled to and the timeline of when they get it. Airlines aren’t going to offer up meal vouchers proactively, but if your delay is long enough you need to know to go request one.
In addition, keeping track of what happened that led to a delay or cancellation is important. If your flight is delayed by 4 hours because the incoming flight needed a part but then a thunder storm cancels your flight- your cancellation is a mechanical cancellation. If the original delay hadn’t happened your flight would have made it out before the storm.
Look at the Contract of Carriage before your flight or even before buying your ticket.
The Contract of Carriage spells out all the rules to be aware of for travel mishaps like delays and cancellations. Many people think that airlines need to rebook you on another airline if they cancel a flight and that idea comes from pre-budget airline rules. Airlines like Spirit, Southwest, Frontier and Allegiant specifically explain in the Contract of Carriage that they don’t book you with anyone else. This means if you’re flying a twice a week flight on Allegiant and the Tuesday flight gets canceled you’re getting put on their Friday flight, IF there’s room.
Be aware of credit card perks you can access.
As we mentioned before, some credit cards give you lounge access. Other like American express offer things like travel protection. Ciaran’s luggage didn’t show up for their Disney Cruise. They were able to purchase diapers, clothes, and other necessities and get reimbursed. Jot down the phone numbers and perks before your trip so that you can pull them up if needed.
Pack essentials in a carry-on.
Luggage doesn’t always make it. Pack essentials and items you’ll need soonest in a carry-on. If it’s a warm destination bring a swimsuit on the plane with you. It’s a lot more relaxing to wait for your luggage while lounging by the pool than sitting anxiously in the lobby.
Business travelers should make sure to include work clothes or networking event attire in a carry-on. If you’re cutting it close with your arrival time you don’t really want to walk into the evening cocktail hour in the sweatpants you wore for comfort because you don’t have time to find an alternative.
Definitely always take your medication on with you. Think about what you’ll need if your luggage doesn’t make it or is delayed.
Bring an extra bag with you.
Just because you plan to carry-on doesn’t mean it will happen. Airlines often gate check bags if the bins are full or it’s a smaller plane. Ciaran recommends keeping a tote bag or small nylon zippered backpack in your carry-on just in case. Set yourself up for success and make a little list to keep in there of things to remember (camera, laptop, charger, keys, medications). Nasreen warns that you might not remember everything in the moment as you’re frantically pulling stuff out. She vividly remembers the time she forgot to grab her car keys out of her forced gate check carry-on. Of course, that bag got put on the next flight and she had to hang out waiting for them to drive home.
Hopefully, these tips help you to plan for travel mishaps before they happen. Now you’re ready to expect the unexpected! What other things do you do to make sure you’re ready for anything?