The one thing you must do before leaving for the airport

By | February 12th, 2016

Being a travel agent can make you paranoid. But as the old line goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

In this case, I’m talking about day-of-departure delays and schedule changes.

In theory, airlines let you know if there are problems with your flight. And many apps purport to do the same thing. But in my experience, it’s a very inexact science.

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was traveling with two other people — all of us with early morning flights to different places — and we had all checked in online the day before. Before we left our friends’ home, however, I quickly logged into our agency computer from my laptop to check the flights.

And when I pulled up my first companion’s flight, I saw her 7:30 a.m. American Airlines flight showing canceled in her record, with a rebooking on a flight three hours later. I quickly checked the flight itself, and it was operating, along with the connecting flight out of Charlotte to Roanoke. Lo and behold, there was even one seat left on the New Orleans to Charlotte flight, and several on the second flight, so I rebooked the original flights and called the airline from the car.

The American phone agent had no idea what had happened. She said she showed both, that the passenger had been changed to the later flights, and also that there was a new booking on the original flights. At the airport, the check-in agent told us the plane was overbooked and the last people who checked in were automatically bumped. Now that is not the way the rules are supposed to work. But, in any case, the agent decided to accept the new booking to the original flights and simply said my friend needed to get a seat assignment at the gate.

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So it worked out okay in the end, and at the gate my friend got an even better seat than she had originally booked. But had I not seen the canceled flight and rebooked that last seat before getting to the airport, the check-in agent would have told her the flight was full, and she probably wouldn’t have gotten on the plane.

Researching the situation later, I found that American had briefly canceled the Charlotte to Roanoke flight, then reinstated it. At that point, the system didn’t see the same fare class availability on the ticketed flights, so my friend had automatically been put on the later flights. Another of those “to err is human; to really screw things up requires a computer” moments.

Just for a further reminder about checking flights before leaving for the airport — in trying to fix the one problem, I missed out on seeing a 2:00 a.m. email from United announcing a one hour flight delay due to “maintenance.” Fortunately, I had a two- and-a-half-hour connection in Houston, so no harm done. (The translation of “maintenance” turned out to be a flat tire. And United had no spares, so they had to fly one in from Houston. No joke.)

Double-checking if your flight is on time before leaving home won’t solve every delay or cancellation problem, as many are last-minute. But it sure can’t hurt! And even when you’re close to the airport, any head start you or your travel agent can get on fixing a problem may make the difference between being successfully rebooked and spending a long time in line and/or hanging around the airport.

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