How can travelers be proactive when anticipating travel problems?
And when can a travel agent save the day?
Peter sat down with Lisa Morris, founder and president of Road Concierge, to find out what options travelers have when facing delays and cancellations.
Peter Greenberg: We’ve just gone through one of the storms of the century in the Northeast (and if you add rain, then you can include the Southwest).
It is now more than two weeks after the famous blizzard. Have you come up for air yet?
Lisa Morris: Not quite, but I have a motto just like the Boy Scouts. “Be Prepared,” is sort of the key thing.
PG: Everybody says that and they think “Be Prepared” means bring a flashlight. The point is Mother Nature was wreaking havoc. The system just stopped, and not just the airline system, but also the train system.
LM: Yes. I was working with the company of Hair and their flights out of New York were canceled. So we got them on a train from Philadelphia to get them out of from there. And then, lo and behold, 20 minutes before their scheduled flight, the airline cancels their flight too.
PG: So they were stuck in Philadelphia.
Stuck in Philadelphia? Why not check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Philadelphia for things to do while you’re there.
LM: They were stuck. But I always make sure I have a list of all of the airport hotels with the direct phone numbers on hand, so that when there’s a situation like that I’m not going on the Web site. Those hotels are not going to throw the rates up on the Web site; they need to protect their rooms. I call the property directly. I’m calling them immediately and I’m getting my passengers into hotel rooms before even the airlines can.
PG: Well, here’s the deal. Let’s say I was one of those guys in Philadelphia. The last thing I want to do is wait in line in Philadelphia because I’m not going anywhere. So get me out of the airport to a place where I can sleep.
LM: It’s the thing to do. Why would you wait in a line of 150 people? You’re not going anywhere.
PG: Not only that, you’re now number 150. By the time you get there that room is gone.
LM: The first thing you do is make preparations. Believe me, if they do manage to get you out on a flight that hotel will forget it because they have a waiting list like you wouldn’t believe to get into those rooms. So they won’t charge you a cancellation for the same day. You book that room. You wait. If your flight’s not happening you go right to that hotel room.
PG: I’m going to say something that is going to sound cynical, but it’s also practical. Anytime you’re flying anywhere, especially if a connecting flight is involved, you have to assume that nothing is going to work. You have to assume that you’re going to miss your connection.
Now, the airlines are somewhat suspect here because a lot of times they will claim that there is a legal connection time of 45 minutes. That’s the walking time it takes you to go between terminals. Who are they kidding? In Europe, it’s even worse. They will tell you that the legal connecting time on European flights going through Heathrow is three hours. Now if you look at the fine print, which nobody ever does, and I had to learn it by accident, the legal connection time for your checked bags is four and a half hours. So the airline is going to book you on what they claim is a legal connection time and your bags never show up because they’re still stuck in London. So anytime there’s a connecting flight you need to figure out plan B, and even better, plan C.
You can also avoid delays by avoiding the Top 10 Worst Weather Airports in the USA.
LM: To me it’s also about an individual traveler. OK, you can’t control the weather and you can’t control the airline. But you can control how you’ve packed. I really think it’s very important when you’re packing for your trip to just think ahead and think, what would happen if I get stuck on a tarmac for 11 hours with my 7-year-old? Pack snacks. Make sure that your iPad is loaded with all the movies it can hold. Fully charge it before you get on the plane because you might be sitting there for hours, and you want to use it.
PG: I also bring with me a separate cell phone battery with me that is already charged.
PG: I also always say if you’re going to check bags, and sometimes you do on international flights, don’t put all your clothing in one bag. Spread it out. If you have two bags, go half and half, because if one bag goes missing at least you have something to wear.
LM: Again, preparation and packing can go along way and that is in your control.
PG: Then there’s rebooking. How do you get people back on flights when everybody else has reservations on flights leaving the next day, and the next day, and the next day?
LM: The individual traveler can sometimes be unlucky if they decided to go the cheap route and booked on an online Web site. There are great Web sites out there and I don’t fault them. But when you’ve booked through a reputable travel agency, you have the advantage of those relationships. Believe me, an airline, if they have to prioritize passengers, will prioritize passengers that are coming from companies that are bringing them millions of dollars in business over the one $250 fare that you’ve booked. It’s unfortunate, but true. So there’s a relationship there that’s important.
If you have to be stuck in an airport, some are better than others: Customer Satisfaction Survey Ranks American Airports
PG: If there was ever a time to have a travel agent book your flight, this is the time.
LM: People say: Why do I need travel agents? I could book it myself. Well, when you have a travel agent on your side you have the benefit of a live person with relationships with a live person. It is going to be more effective and they will get you out faster. It’s not just the leverage in terms of the relationship of the travel agency. You also have in your power to join every airline mileage program you can and every hotel program you can, so you can get to an elite status. If you’re a passenger that has a higher status, again, they are going to prioritize you in getting on the plane. So take advantage of your opportunity. Even if you don’t fly that often just sign up; it’s free.
PG: There is a caste system here. Last but not least, and I know you did this for a lot of people during the blizzard, and I do this for myself–be counterintuitive. Take the map and throw it out. If you want to go from Los Angeles to Hawaii and flight is booked you’re not out of luck. Go from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Hawaii. Or Los Angeles to Utah to Hawaii. Los Angeles to Vegas to Hawaii.
LM: We call it Zorro booking, where you’re going from point Z all over the map in no logical order whatsoever. Sometimes you have to Zorro book, but at least you’ll get there – even if you had to go six hours out of your way over your destination.
PG: And then think alternate airports. Think Providence instead of Boston. Think Oakland instead of San Francisco. My favorite secret airport Islip in Long Island instead of Kennedy and LaGuardia because Islip tends to stay open.
LM: A lot of the smaller ones will [stay open] because they don’t have the same demand.
By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Top 10 Worst Weather Airports in the USA
- America’s Best Alternate Airports
- Customer Satisfaction Survey Ranks American Airports
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Philadelphia
- Natural Disasters section
- Travel Insurance section