Get in line at the gate agent's desk or at the airline reticketing counter, AND AT THE SAME TIME, use your cellular phone to call the airline toll free number. If you have elite medallion status with the airline, you should call the number on your card which gives you some advantage over non elite travelers. If you are already outside the US, this becomes more difficult since you cellular phone will most likely not work. But in the US, being in line and calling the airline gives you a two pronged approach to resolving these issues.
You will need your flight itinerary in hand that should include your reservation number and if you bags have already been checked, the baggage claim slip.
have your reservation number and flight information handy. Sometimes they will only be able to change your reservation in the system, and you may still have to wait in that line to check in your bags and have your reservation re-ticketed. If this is the case, you can then wait with calm assurance, knowing you do have a confirmed reservation, thanks to your quick action and a cell phone.
When dealing with the agent assigned to rebook your flight, remember that they, too, are under a lot of stress trying to unexpectedly re-accommodate all the stranded passengers. Be firm (but Christ-like) in dealing with the agent over the counter, and do not leave the counter until you have a confirmed reservation to get you to your final destination. If you are not happy with how things are going, ask for a supervisor. Many agents will tell you anything they can think of to get you out of their face and on to the next complaining passenger. Don't be afraid to ask for meal or overnight compensation. In many cases, if you don't ask for it, the airline will not offer it. Once you leave the counter, your place in line will be forever gone, so don't step away from the agent until you're completely satisfied and have all your questions resolved.
Know where your bags are! One of the biggest problems with flight delays and re-routing of flights is lost baggage. Nearly every time a ticket has to be re-routed, bags get lost, often not making it to the final destination until the trip is nearly over. When you are at the counter, ask for your bags to be pulled and re-tagged so that they are put on the same flight that you're rebooked on. Check back with the counter asking for confirmation that this is done. Be sure to have your bag tags handy, and write down the name of the person who advised you about your luggage. You can help reduce the likelihood of your bags being lost by taking a pro-active role when there are delays.
"No show for flights lose all ticket validity." We at Ministry Travel sometimes feel like we say this too much. We have this warning on all itineraries as well as all of our after hours auto responses. In spite of this, the airlines don't seem to take it seriously when it comes to your ticket. On a weekly basis, we hear of flights that are missed or re-routed, only to also hear that the gate agent didn't take the time to update the passenger's reservation with the onward flights. For example, let's assume that you are traveling from Dallas to Entebbe using American Airlines and SN Brussels. Your flight is delayed, causing you to be re-routed using another airline into Entebbe. If the gate agent who re-routed you does not update your reservation, canceling your original Brussels to Entebbe flight, then the computer automatically considers you a "no show" for that flight. When this happens, all the rest of your flights including your return trip are automatically cancelled. Trying to get your flights re-confirmed again can be costly and exhausting. Do not leave that counter until you are certain the gate agent has updated the rest of your itinerary. You most certainly do not want to be the casualty of their ineptness.
Take notes and keep documentation. Throughout whatever dilemma you experience, be sure to document the names of the individuals that help or guide you along the way. Be sure also to keep all boarding passes and itineraries, including any re-routed itineraries. If you experience problems and have to file complaints or request refunds after the fact, the best way to ensure resolution to your problems will be by having detailed records of who you spoke to, what you did, and what flights you were re-routed on.
Quick and decisive action on your part will go a long way in alleviating some of the frustrations of flight delays. Call the airline while standing in line, make sure the agent has done their job properly, keep track of your bags, and don't be afraid to speak up. Armed with this knowledge, you can take some control of the situation and make your remaining trip go much smoother. As Sir Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is power."
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