All dressed up and nowhere to go: How to (hopefully) avoid flight delays
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT) - In the lowered-expectations world of air travel, some facts of life have changed for the better. Meal cutbacks mean most passengers never hear the most daunting question in the air, "Chicken or beef?"
Reduced airline capacity means fewer options, all at the passenger's expense. My son's recent trip back from Michigan to St. Louis, a nine-hour drive or train ride, took 36 hours due to the inability of American Airlines to rebook him for an entire day. When he finally did catch a plane to Chicago, a missed connection to St. Louis added another 12 hours to the trip.
My own experience with canceled and seriously delayed flights runs the gamut from AWOL pilots who didn't want to fly on Christmas Day to carriers that refuse to offer any kind of credit or accommodation for a canceled flight. Your lost time is definitely not their problem.
Unless you happen to own an airline you might wonder what if anything you can do to circumvent just a few of the following common problems:
_You have missed your connecting flight and are unable to make a connection until the following day, meaning your cruise is leaving without you.
_Your airline only operates a single flight a day to your destination and a backup aircraft won't be available for a day or longer.
_Your carrier is unable or unwilling to let you change a flight unless you buy a new ticket or pay a huge cancellation penalty.
To get around some of these problems, here are a few helpful suggestions that will prepare you for the deregulated caveat emptor world of air travel.
If you are taking any trip under 500 miles consider driving or taking a train or bus. Often this is a better deal in terms of cost and competitive when you factor in time. This way you don't have to run the risk of huge rebooking fees (I just paid $280 to change a return date on a $490 flight to London and the airline told me I was lucky it wasn't higher) if your original itinerary changes. This is doubly true if you are flying with someone else.
Before you book, look for a nonstop and try to stay with a single carrier or one that it is part of an inter-airline alliance or partnership. This means they have the ability to get you to your destination on a partner carrier.
Much of the problem with air travel is missed connections. This can be a hang-up with budget carriers like Spirit and Ryanair, which assume no liability for their late arrival if it results in a missed connection on another carrier. Even if you are connecting to one of their own flights, you will have to wait for the next available opportunity, which could mean being stuck for a day or longer if they are running or full or have a light schedule on the route you choose.
If there is no direct air service from your hometown airport to your final destination, consider flying nonstop to or from a convenient hub. It's often worth the drive. You can also skip the regional airline connection to your final destination by choosing a shuttle, rental car or train.
Take Santa Barbara, for example. If you're flying from Minneapolis you could head for Los Angeles and then take a ground shuttle to Santa Barbara. This way you can avoid the possibility of commuter flight delays in Los Angeles.
In places like Europe and Japan, where there are efficient rail systems, this alternative can be cheaper and faster when you factor in the reality of bad weather. Also, you may find that the shuttle connection to your spoke city is cheaper than a connecting commuter flight.
Similarly, if you live in a spoke city like New Haven, Conn., or Waco, Texas, it may to worth driving or taking a ground shuttle to a hub to begin your air travel.
Hubs offer plenty of backup flights. If your scheduled flight is seriously delayed or canceled, chances are you can probably easily book a later plane. My son is a good example. Stuck 180 miles away from O'Hare after his 28-minute commuter flight was canceled, he had to wait 24 hours for another connection to Chicago.
Had he simply gone to the O'Hare via train the next morning he could have easily caught one of American's many flights to St. Louis. Instead he was forced to wait 24 hours for another plane, missed the last connection of the night in Chicago and slept on a cot for four hours, until airport staff put all the bedding away at 4 a.m.
Even if you don't take this approach, it's worth choosing your hub carefully. Always pick the hub closest to your final destination. For example, if you're going to Daytona Beach it's better to connect through Orlando than Atlanta. That way, if your connection is a problem, it's easy to rent a car or take a shuttle for a much shorter trip.
No matter how you travel it's almost always better to take the first flight when planes tend to be on ...
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