Most travelers at the airport, the recording head and allow the airline to take care of the rest. This is not good enough. Especially if any chose goes wrong and that things go wrong. You must be your own lawyer, and you need a game plan, with information and technology backup.
Here are five ways to get an edge over the more complacent travelers around you:
1) Know your alternatives.
Carry the airline calendar, or a list of other flights to your destination, which can be downloaded or printed from the website of the airline, any company. This is useful when you try to change the reservation or want to go to sleep. Let's say that flights are delayed two hours in all areas. The previous flight may still wait to push the door. Check that you imported and a straight line for the Flight departing earlier. Try to stand in and out at the beginning, instead of waiting hours for your regular route.
Don’t forget alternate routings if trying to rebook. Just because you’re scheduled to fly from Raleigh to Los Angeles via Chicago doesn’t mean that’s the only route you can take. (E.g., maybe you can fly via Dallas instead.) Having an electronic timetable is great for this. Ask airline agents about specific route alternatives — they may not look them up if you don’t ask for them by name.
2) Playing contract lawyer can be fun.
Though the rules that govern your ticket aren’t pre-printed on your boarding pass, you’re still bound by them. So bring a copy! Since I usually travel with a laptop, I keep a downloaded copy of the airline’s contract of carriage on the hard drive. The contract includes rules such as compensation for being bumped and the infamous “Rule 240″ that lives on in some contracts, governing the transferability of your itinerary to another airline in case of delay. (Knowing the real reason for delays is useful, too.) I also keep screenshots (or PDFs) of terms & conditions pages related to upgrades, frequent flyer mile redemption, etc., in case anyone gives me a hard time. Know your rights, and exert them. I’ve had to break out that legal mumbo jumbo with airline representatives (and their supervisors) on a few occasions, and with paperwork at the ready, I’ve always won.
3) Get serious status reports sent to you in real-time.
While airlines offer e-mail, text message, and automated phone call alerts, which update you on the status of your flight, these updates are often too little and too late. For real status updates, sign up for the alerts feature at FlightStats. Their updates are very, very detailed, and you’ll know exactly where you stand.
4) Pre-program airline phone numbers into your cell phone.
While airlines’ 1-800 numbers are increasingly staffed by unempowered outsourced overseas call center personnel, you may need to call and make a change. Best to have the number at the ready, especially if you’re stuck on the plane.
If there are big delays, and long lines of people waiting for a customer service desk, try the self-service kiosks. Often, the machine can help, faster than a call to the 800 number can. If the machine can’t help, there’s sometimes a phone attached, and picking it up connects you to an agent — an agent who, in my experience, has been far more empowered than the average call center employee. I’ve used those phones to get on standby lists and make last-minute itinerary changes, while others stood in a long line at the gate, hoping to make the same change. These kiosk phones work, but most people don’t use them.
5) Check in online, and early
This one should really go without saying, but so many people put it off that it bears repeating. Check in online, and do it as early as you can. The earlier you check in, the less likely you’ll be bumped, and the more likely you’ll be in line for upgrades and clearing standby, if either of those options are in the cards.
Check in early even if your flight is delayed. Let’s say your flight is delayed two hours, and you know it’s delayed even before you even head to the airport. Check in before your scheduled departure time, not the rescheduled/delayed time. If you don’t check in by the original time, you’ll still be considered a no-show and could lose your seat. And I recommend against showing up late for a delayed flight. You never know when that 2 hour delay might miraculously turn into a 30-minute delay, leaving you grounded. Don’t laugh, it happens. Better to show up on time and try to stand by for the earlier (delayed) flight.
Some people mistakenly think you can’t check in online if you have bags to check. That’s not true. Some airports have a bag-drop for those who checked in online, while others make you stand in line. (Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to check the bags.) But checking in early online still has its benefits, no matter if you check bags or carry on. These tips won’t guarantee that you’ll get where you need to be on time, but you’ll improve your odds.