I just read a very rational description of how one stranded traveler in Heathrow thinks flight delays should be handled, and it’s hard to disagree. Twenty years ago that’s how it went…I remember getting a free hotel room in DC due to severe storms in 1995, but price pressure has its casualties. That level of service only comes with a first-class ticket these days unless you have a little freakish cattle-class luck.
Now, you can choose to stick to the notion that you are owed this service and you may indeed get it eventually – but you’ll lose many hours and alternatives in the process, with questionable results. Or you can step up and make something happen your way. I have to remind myself sometimes that the experience comes before the money (admittedly it depends on how much), but sometimes you don’t even have to make that choice….
THE TRAVEL MISHAPS
I landed in Denver on my way to my sister’s for Christmas a couple of years ago, and all connecting flights were grounded. If I had stood in line like I was told to reschedule everything, it would have taken me 2 hours and I’d have ended up in a hotel in Denver, my dime. I called the airline’s customer service and asked their policy on reimbursing v. rescheduling a cancelled flight and googled up the bus schedules while I was on hold. I made the last bus to Aspen with 5 mins to spare and got reimbursed for that leg of the flight. By the way, they wouldn’t have gotten me rescheduled until TWO days later, which was Christmas Eve.
My brother missed his connection in Istanbul on his way to meet me in Africa – totally his fault. While he was busy rescheduling and talking them out of the $500 ticket change fee, I was on my laptop in Tanzania finding him a room for the night – $50, 4-star boutique hotel next to the Blue Mosque because I knew where to go in Istanbul if you only had 24 hours. He texted that there was a ton of people at lost luggage, I told him he didn’t need anything for one night, just go to the hotel (as I suspected, his bag had gone on to Nairobi without him). I think he cried in the airport but he swears he didn’t…in my mind he’s still 6 years old, not 38. The hotel settled him into a comfy armchair with tea, he had his free little toothpaste/toothbrush kit from the airplane, he went out on the town that night and did a morning bus tour that ended up at somebody’s uncle’s carpet shop. I think he spent 7 out of his 9 days in Africa wishing he’d never left Istanbul, and now he knows where he wants to go for his next Euro trip.
TAKING MATTERS INTO MY OWN HANDS
If I’d waited behind 100 other stranded passengers in Denver to see what could be done, I’d have been out $200+ in room and food costs with nothing to do for 2 nights, when instead I spent it exactly where I was supposed to. Even if the airline hadn’t reimbursed me $80 for that leg of the flight (the exact price of the bus ticket), it would have been worth it on every possible level.
If my brother had waited for luggage that wasn’t there, he’d have just become more distraught and panicked after several hours and spent the night at the rather expensive hotel at the airport, never seeing Istanbul at all. It would have cost him more money and a great, unexpected experience in a country he’d never even thought about visiting.
How would I have handled the Heathrow hassle differently? I’d have gotten the airline’s 800 number, found a public phone, and had them make arrangements. For everything. Because they can do pretty much the same things by phone that they can at a busy or elusive customer service desk. If nothing else I’d have gotten the name of the hotel they normally put stranded travelers at, hopped the bus or train into London and sorted it out at the other end. Then I’d have hit the town with a lot more than an hour until last call at the pub, just as the blogger with the customer service advice had hoped to do. I might not have gotten my $15 back for the ride to the hotel, but adding 3-4 hours to my “bonus day” in London would have been worth a lot more than that.