Getting There BETTER | How to Recover When Flights Are Delayed or Cancelled — A Case Study
You love the idea of travel — fabulous vacations, visits to the grandparents, a mid-winter business trip to warm climates — but travel kind of sucks, right? Brutal lines. Checked bag fees. TSA “special” pat downs. Middle seats in the way back. Expensive, inflexible tickets. Hotel rooms with views of the parking lot. Torture. But, really, it doesn’t have to. There are a few, genuinely simple things you can do to make it much, much better. So follow along and get there better.
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How to Recover When Flights Are Delayed or Cancelled — A Case Study

Uh oh. Here we go.

I spent Memorial Day on a round trip from DC to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ). The reasons for the trip are too long to explain, but suffice it to say it was part of a larger strategy that involved business class and Europe.

My first two flights went as expected – on time and comfortably seated with both wifi and meals. The purser and I exchanged pleasantries and established that we’d both be on the same return flight — the crew was turning around just as I was.

As we neared PUJ, she told me that there was a possibility that the aircraft was going out of service – a door seal problem in the rear and there was no maintenance on the ground and did I have my bathing suit with me? Uh oh.

I knew when I booked this ticket that it was a triple threat for service interruptions — holiday weekend, limited flights to a caribbean island, and older aircraft (AA flies the aging 757 fleet to these areas). I risked it knowing that the schedule both worked for me and had some potential “outs” if things went bad. I was now going to have to test those “outs”.

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Never underestimate the power of the Twitter team!

From the air, I did a quick search of ExpertFlyer to see what flights off PUJ might have seats – there was a Charlotte and later Miami option. Sweet. I fired off a quick Tweet to the AA Twitter team request that they please protect me on one of the later flights. They protected me on the 3:35 to Miami flight in Main Cabin Extra (extended legroom) because there were no more first class seats. That worked for me. Hooray for the Twitter team.

After exiting through
immigration and customs and coming back in, I get back to the gate where lots of folks standing around, including the new pilot who seemed confident that we were going to fly. Departure time and no updates from AA. Made friends with some deadheading private pilots who had just flown Pitbull and his dancers and production crew to PUJ. Still, we waited.

The flight finally updated to an hour delay. I’d seen a Priority Pass lounge as I walked through earlier and figured I’d check in there for some wifi and a beverage.

I used my T-Mobile wifi calling to call American and check in on my options. The customer service rep I spoke with didn’t instill a ton of confidence — several times I had to redirect him when his answers didn’t seem correct. HUCA.

Another flight update — flight now scheduled for 2 1/2 hour delay.

The next rep I spoke to quickly understood my situation and helped me look at my options. If I confirmed on the later flight from PUJ to MIA then my flight to DCA would be too tight and therefore an illegal connection. If my original flight actually got off when it was now scheduled for, I could still make it. I was in paid business/first class for this whole ticket and while I was hoping to retain that, I really just wanted to get home tonight so I waited longer.

Another flight update — 8pm departure (7 hour delay). Then, in quick succession, delay to 7am the following morning; delay until 1pm the following afternoon; delay to 3pm the following afternoon; delay to 3:30pm the following afternoon. That plane was going nowhere fast.

I was still on the phone with the second rep so we pulled the trigger on confirming me on the PUJ-MIA flight the Twitter team had protected for me. The rep got me the very last seat on the very last flight from MIA to DCA, wished me luck and sent me rushing off to my new gate to get my new seat assignment and board the new flight.

All flights off the island were sold out for the next two days so there are now 200 angry people swarming the gate

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Always let Customer Service know if you didn’t receive the service you paid for.

I took one look at the angry mob, turned around and found a gate agent for a different flight that had recently departed. She grabbed me a seat and printed my boarding passes. The seat wasn’t great but I was getting off misery island and so wasn’t about to complain. That will come later directly with AA Customer Service.

So, after the most Caribbean-esqu boarding I’ve ever encountered, I was on my way to Miami in hopes of catching a standby seat on an earlier flight from MIA-DCA and being safely tucked into my own bed in time to watch Sunday shows.

Here’s why I got home when so many other’s didn’t:

  • I took action as soon as possible after hearing there might be irregular operations (irrops)
  • I researched my options on ExpertFlyer, knew what was available and what to ask for
  • I pro-actively reached out to the Twitter team with a specific request for protection on a particular flight. I now had a back-up plan in place — I could bide my time to make the best choices available to me as the situation played out
  • I had access to a club with wifi for easy international calling and ongoing monitoring of seat availability. Priority Pass, which comes with the American Express Platinum card as well as the Citi Prestige card, provides free access to clubs around the world
  • When I couldn’t get to the swarmed gate to get my seat assignment, I searched for an alternative. Getting in those scrums is a never a good idea.

What else should I have done differently? Any ideas?

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