This story is part of our Travel Nightmares series, featuring helpful tips, hints, and strategies so you can travel stress-free. Read our other Travel Nightmares stories here: 10 Free Things Your Hotel Provides, How to Avoid Baggage Fees & Other Costs, What to Do About Flight Cancellations, Your Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, How to Get the Best Travel Deals, and 6 Resources for Fear of Flying. Bon voyage!
Most of us have been there: An overbooked flight, damaged luggage, weather cancellations. Personally, I’ve been on flights where I sat eating airline peanuts patiently waiting to take off, only to go back to the gate and spend the night at the airport!
The reality is, there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to how an airline deals with a travel nightmare. Policies differ by carrier and often issues are settled case by case rather than working off of a template.
But that “wiggle room” can work both ways. If you’re not happy with the way an airline is dealing with a situation, persist. Ask to talk to a manager, file a complaint, and keep trying to settle the situation in a way that’s agreeable to you. Here are some common travel problems and ways you can work around them.
Traveling comes with its own host of potential nightmares, but if you prepare ahead of time you can typically avoid many of them. Check out Jeanette’s other helpful tips for how to avoid baggage fees and say “Bon voyage!” to those extra travel costs!
1. Flight delayed? Not our problem
There are no federal requirements governing compensation for a delayed flight. You can ask if they’ll pay for a meal while you’re delayed, but they’re not required to provide it. And they’re not responsible for any financial losses from a delayed flight.
One unfortunate example of this is passengers who miss their cruise ship departure because of a delayed flight. That loss is likely to fall on your shoulders, so give yourself plenty of cushion.
2. The demise of Rule 240
Prior to airline deregulation in 1978, there was a little thing called Rule 240 that made flight delays and cancellation a lot easier to cope with. Airlines were required to pay a passengers way on another carrier if that carrier could get them to their destination more quickly.
This mandate is long gone, but some airlines still honor versions of this old ruling when the airline is at fault, such as mechanical delays or crew shortage.
3. Airlines are allowed to overbook
Overbooking is a common (and legal) practice amongst airlines. But if there are more people than seats, there are certain rules an airline needs to follow. The airline must ask for volunteers before they start involuntarily bumping passengers. You give your spot in exchange for compensation and a later flight.
Be aware that the amount of compensation isn’t mandated for volunteers, and make sure you have a confirmed spot on a later flight before committing to volunteer. If you’re on a standby list, it could become quite the nightmare to get home.
4. Don’t ignore check-in deadlines
We’ve all done it: Pushed the limits on a check-in deadline. The policy may be that bags need to be checked one hour before departure, but you arrive 55 minutes before and the agent allows it, so all good, right? It could be a problem later on. If you miss an airline’s check-in deadline they may not assume liability for your bag if it’s delayed or lost.
5. Hoard your miles with caution
Airlines have the right to make changes to frequent flyer programs on short notice. One way this could become a travel nightmare is if all those miles you’ve been diligently saving up suddenly become worth a lot less.
This could happen if the miles needed for a particular reward are raised. The miles you earned under more liberal rules will have to be redeemed under the new, restrictive rules.
6. Beware of luggage loopholes
If your luggage and belongings arrive damaged, airlines will usually pay for repairs or pay a depreciated amount for items beyond repair, but there are loopholes — and lots of them.
Airlines may refuse to pay if they think items were damaged because of poor packing rather than rough handling by the airline. If there’s no evidence of damage to the exterior of the suitcase, they may not pay for damaged items inside.
In some cases, you may be asked to sign a waiver at baggage check if an agent feels there’s a chance your item won’t arrive safely. Signing this gives away your right to ask for damage reimbursement.
Sometimes a checked bag or specially designed luggage is worth the investment. Check out our recommendations for travel essentials, including luggage and packing accessories!
7. Bonus tip! Check with your credit card
When the airline fails you, turn to your credit card. Travel purchases made on some credit cards carry a form of travel insurance with them. If your trip was cancelled or interrupted due to a covered reason like illness, severe weather, or a jury duty summons, you may be able to get some of your money back.
It’s not likely to be as all-encompassing as traditional travel insurance, but it’s worth exploring. Some cards also cover lost luggage reimbursement.