I sat in my seat, sipping a pre-departure beverage. Boarding had just completed and the flight attendants were in the process of closing the overhead bins. It was a late night flight, so I started getting cosy in my seat–when, BAM! The entire plane shook violently and lifted on the left side.
Our plane was just hit! The people on the other side of the plane started exclaiming, “A TRUCK JUST HIT THE ENGINE!” I looked up and down the aisle and everyone was okay. This was the perfect time to get hit by a truck (if getting hit by a truck were already a given 😉 ). The overhead bins were already shut. Everyone was seatbelted. And the flight attendants were all standing in places were they could brace themselves. Everyone was 100% okay.
My first reaction was to get up and get my bag out of the overhead compartment and sit back down. It was an evening flight and I was pretty sure they could not repair what just happened. Even if they could, since it was after 9pm, I doubt the plane would be fixed in time to fit DCA’s take-off window. DCA’s runways closes for the night. Sure enough, after sitting for about 20 minutes, we were informed our flight was cancelled and everyone need to be rebooked.
We were on a non-stop cross-country flight to Las Vegas on an Airbus 320. The flight was full at 150 people and US Airways only has one direct flight to Vegas per day.
They deplaned the first-class passengers to get them re-booked before deplaning the rest. What do you do in this situation, especially if you are stuck on the plane while first-class re-books? Luckily, there are ways of re-booking yourself while still on the plane–but I will get to that.
1. Decide Ahead of Time What You Want
If your first-class seated, non-stop flight to Vegas got cancelled you probably want a new non-stop flight to Vegas, in first class, as soon as possible. You are probably going to get one of those items. Decide what it is before talking to the agent so she can best assist you. In my case, I was most interested in getting to Las Vegas as soon as possible. I was traveling for work, as was my coworker with me.
I told the gate agent: I would like us both to be in Vegas as soon as possible. I value that above connections and you can send us separately if you need to. She was able to snag us the last seats on two different hub routes. While we ended up taking a crazy path, we got to the conference on time.
The club membership desks can help you and won’t have the crowds your gate has. And, to put it bluntly, they tend to value customer experience more than those at the gate. I couldn’t do this in my case because the US Airways Club closes early on Saturday Nights, but I wish it were an option.
3. Call US Airways While You Are Waiting (Especially if you have elite status)
Some of the people on the plane waiting for the first-class passengers to get booked called up US Airways and were re-booked on flights before most of the first class passengers were re-booked. The customer representatives on the phone have more power than those at the gate.
The job of the Gate Agents at this point is to get everyone re-booked as soon as possible. They aren’t going to be looking at options on other airlines, or other ways of getting you what you need.
The Phone Customer Service Agents, on the other hand, do not have an ever growing queue of people in front of them. They can take the time to listen and figure out a solution for your situation.
It is also faster to deal with re-booking on the phone. If there’s a grumpy person in front of you, the Gate Agent has to deal with them until they go away. On the phone, you get redirected to the next available person when they open up. And the longer you wait, the more flights go to other people trying to rebook.
I made this mistake. I was second in line for re-booking the first class passengers. So, it did not even occur to me to call. But the person in front of me had status and wanted the entire staff at the airport to know and wanted an invisible plane to appear and take him to his location. By the time he was done berating the gate agent, all the flight options she was offering him had disappeared (most likely to the passengers on the plane who called up US Airways directly!)
So, by the time I got up there, I ended up with 12 hours of travel (in the middle seat the whole time). I am grateful the gate agent was able to quickly get me what I most needed once I made it to the front.
When I called the Platinum line right after to see what I could do in regards to the middle seat, I got through immediately. She got me an aisle seat on my flights (and put me on standby for first for all three legs–one cleared) and was able to take the time to work through the system to get this done.
4. Be Familiar With the Carrier Contracts for Your Airline and Use it as a Weapon
If your flight cancellation strands you, know what you can ask for–food? Hotel? But also hold off on any non-immediate compensation needs until you can send an email later. The Gate Agent isn’t equipped to compensate you for your anguish or a lost hotel room. Submit that to the airline directly through email. This creates a paper trail as you work through your claim.
Unfortunately for me, US Airways Carrier Contract specifically lists their compensation for cancelled flights as suggested compensation only. It is not guaranteed and is subject to change at any time. But in this case, they would cover a hotel room if you do not live in the area, since this was not an act of God, it was an act of bad driving. I didn’t expect much since DC is my home area.
I lost cab fare and one night of a hotel from this. They ended up giving me a $130 credit towards a future flight.
5. CALL YOUR HOTEL
I put this in all-caps because it is very important. If you do not check-in, there’s a chance your hotel can cancel your reservation. You would get marked as a no-show and charged a penalty. Once the hotel knows what is going on, they know when to expect you. However, be familiar with the hotel’s cancellation/no-show policy. Even though I did not pre-pay for my hotel, the cancellation penalty by 9pm that night was 100% of the room cost anyway. But at least they knew I was coming and did not give my room away. It would have added another layer of “ugh” to this situation.
6. Breathe and Remember This Stuff Happens
Weather, emergencies and, er, trucks happen. Don’t let this ruin your trip. If you are stuck in a random city, take it as an opportunity to see a new place. I’ve gotten to the point where I look up places near airports where I can get stuck so I have a fun thing I’ve been looking forward to doing that I can jump right into. (If I am ever stranded in Phoenix, I will eat like a king).
Also remember that the Gate Agents didn’t cause whatever happened, and even more so–the flight attendants on your flight aren’t getting paid. They are only paid on hours flown, so they may be even more disappointed than you! Please don’t take your annoyance for the weather, the airlines, or that truck driver that hit you out on the staff.
7. Prepare for Next Time
The man sitting behind me was extremely distraught. He was taking a non-refundable helicopter ride early the next morning. He had paid over $1,000 for this. I really felt bad for him. It seemed like something he really wanted to do and had saved up for.
But in the future, for any activities you are really looking forward to, you spent a lot of money on, and are non-refundable, you will want to pad your travel time.
Edit: The end of this post seems to have disappeared! But in summary, try to figure out what a reasonable request would be and aim your expectations slightly lower–that’s probably what you’d end up getting.