web Musings of The Global Traveller

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ways to get an edge over other travellers

Source: BBC online

Right in time for the busy holiday travel season, with it's share of disruptions, Upgrade: Travel Better has 5 tips to get an edge over other air travelers. They are very good tips, summarised below.

(1) get status reports in real-time - eg using Flight Stats

(2) know your alternatives

(3) know your rights

(4) ways to get help quicker - eg pre-program 1-800 numbers

(5) online check in (OLCI), and check in early

My comments on the list are:

  1. I use Flight Stats and it works well for flights within USA in my experience. However outside USA some airlines, airports do not send the information through in a timely or complete manner and I use other sources such as airline and airport websites. Don't forget that at airports where the airline you are flying has few flights you can check whether arriving flights are on time to get an indication for your flight departing on time.

  2. This would be my number one tip. I've lost track of how many times simply knowing alternatives and having a back up plan have made the difference between getting to my destination or not.

  3. While the airline's contract of carriage may help sometimes, particularly in USA, I would not put this in my own top 5 list. In some places mentioning rights may cause more problems than it solves. When I am facing a disruption (significant delay or cancellation) my primary concern is to get to my destination in time if possible and certainly to make any necessary changes as quickly and painlessly as possible. In some cultures quoting your rights is seen as confrontational and may result in a worse outcome. Further, many airlines these days outsource the check in and ground handling and these contractors may not have authority to deal with you appropriately.

  4. I second the suggestion to call. Instead of waiting in a long line of passengers being dealt with one at a time you can jump the queue by calling and making changes over the phone. If you are elite, call the elite line for better service. Alternatively if you have access to the airline lounge then try asking staff there (but this generally only works if the lounge is operated by that airline and not a contract lounge). These aren't foolproof methods. Last year I had to reroute when my next flight was delayed enough to cause a misconnect for the subsequent flight. The problem then was the delay was not yet registered on the computer. The lounge staff were great but it took them a while to verify my statement that there was a delay.

  5. You don't have to OLCI to check in early. Some airlines allow phone check in. The time at which OLCI opens varys by airline - some are as soon as you have made the booking (ie months before the flight), others 48 or 24 hours before departure, or same day / several hours before departure. If you have a return or connecting flight within 24 hours ask if you can check in for the return flight when you check in for the first flight. Not only does this save time but it can give the airline information about where you are and whether or not to hold a flight for you.
My fifth tip (replacing #3 above) is to fly airlines or alliances you have status with, where possible. In the event of disruptions it is passengers with status that tend to get the best treatment.
Having said all that theory I can relate a recent experience of mine from within the last few days. A flight I was booked on became oversold on the day of departure when another airline's flight on part of the same routing was cancelled.
(1) I gathered this information more than 12 hours before departure from the departure airport website and a booking class availability tool (such as seatcounter). I was booked on a direct flight with transit stop. I knew there was a chance I would be bumped off the flight so as to reaccommodate as many passengers of the other airline.
(2) The city pair I was flying had 2 other non-stop flights operated by the same airline I was booked with, as well as another non-stop flight on a third airline. All flights leave within an hour or so of each other. As it happens I know these schedules by heart, but if I didn't I could easily look them up on the airport or airline websites. Better yet, use the booking class availability tool to list all options on one screen together with an indication of how full or otherwise they are. All flights were full.
(3) I had top status on both the airline I was booked on and also on the alternate third airline. If someone was going to be left behind that day it would not be me unless I checked in late.
(4) I checked in with the elite check in desk. Later in the lounge I double-checked there were no better alternatives for me.
(5) OLCI was not available for this flight, but aware of the situation I arrived at check in early. As it happened this time the airline did not try to contact me beforehand to advise of the bump. But by checking in early I had the maximum number of options open to me.
I didn't end up with a great outcome, but it certainly could have been much worse if I had not taken the steps above. With all the flights full and no reasonable alternate routings, it is possible I might not have made the trip at all.

1 comment:

Mark Ashley said...

Thanks for that.

I agree wholeheartedly that the contract of carriage is something that will help you in some countries, but not in others. That said, it can't hurt to have it on you. ;)

Also agree 100% about getting status within one alliance, as that is a powerful factor in getting rebooked, etc. Only a minor caveat: Advice re: status only helps the frequent traveler. The other tips would be valid for the once-a-year tourist as well.