Dealing with Airline “Bumping” and Flight Cancellations

Dealing with Airline “Bumping” and Flight Cancellations

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(Koka Sexton Flickr Photo)

Unless you’ve been living on the dark side of the Moon recently, you have heard about the United Airlines passenger who was dragged off a Chicago-to-Louisville flight after he refused to give up his seat to a member of United’s affiliate, Republic Airlines, who needed to reach Louisville to be available to work on a flight out of that city the next day.

United announced that it is taking steps to reduce overbooking, and JetBlue and Southwest are planning to eventually eliminate the practice altogether.

But while the odds of you being “involuntarily bumped” off an over-booked flight are quite low, the chances of you ending up “grounded” because of a flight delay or cancellation are high enough that you should know what to do to prevent that from happening or if you find yourself stuck at your departure airport.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” a popular adage that applies as much to air travel as it does to health.

The best way to avoid not reaching your destination when traveling by air is to book only non-stop flights whenever available. By doing so, you are only giving the airline one opportunity to fail to get you to where you want to be.

Even if you could “save” money by changing planes somewhere along the flight path, or taking a “direct” flight (which means the plane makes stops en-route to your destination, but that you need not hop onto another aircraft), you’ll “feel the burn” of anger searing your brain if you get stuck at some airport short of where you wanted to be, and your sense of “money savings” will go up in the smoke boiling out of your ears.

If you are forced to book connecting flights, allow at least an hour or two at the mid-point airport between the time your first flight is scheduled to land and the scheduled departure time for your ongoing flight.

This is particularly important if you have to switch from one airline to another, transfer from one terminal to another (such as at Los Angeles International Airport), between different airports serving the same city (such as London), or retrieve and re-check bags (which will probably require you to exit, and then re-enter the secured side of the airport and go through a security checkpoint a second time).

Before finalizing flight booking, try to find out the on-time percentage for the first flight to see if there might be a substantial risk that it may not arrive in time for you to catch the connecting flight.

And if the on-time performance of that second flight number is poor, you might not reach your final destination that day.

Try to avoid taking the last scheduled flight of the day, even if it is a non-stop. If that flight is cancelled, you’ll find yourself with an unplanned “sleepover” in a city you had no desire to visit, or worse yet, on the floor of one of its airport’s terminal.

Fifty years ago the prospect of taking a trip by plane produced palpable excitement. Today it produces palpable dread which you can reduce to a tolerable level by following this advice.

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