With all of the airport crisis that have been arising lately, which weather cancellations and other issues, what advice do you have for making sure consumers don't get stranded at the airport?
These days, getting stranded in an airport can last days. The volcanic ash over Europe is an example.
Here are tips from the upcoming September 2010 issue of Consumer Reports' ShopSmart to help consumers avoid getting stranded:
• Know the ground rules: There are no federal requirements when it comes to airline delays, so each carrier has its own guidelines. They're listed in its "contract of carriage" agreement, available on its website (use the search function) or at ticket counters.
• Consider using a travel agent: If you're booking an international trip or a complicated itinerary, it can really pay off. When widespread cancellations occur, good agents have the know-how to rebook you through other cities or on other carriers.
• Charge your trip: Use a credit card for payment in case your airline delay is because the carrier—or any of your other travel providers—has gone belly up.
• Call ahead: To avoid getting stranded at the airport in the case of a problem, check your flight status online or by phone.
• If your flight is cancelled, skip airport lines: Call reservations or your travel agent instead—it may be quicker than waiting at a customer-service counter. If you qualify, go to the airline lounge for help. Ask whether you can get rebooked on another airline. Using another carrier probably won't speed things up if the delay is due to weather, but if could help if the delay is due to airline-specific issues like mechanical problems.
• Use your status but be nice: If you're an elite frequent flyer or traveling in premium class, or if you booked a full-fare tickets, be sure you let the airline rep know that because it may help you get freebies like phone cards or meals or hotel vouchers. Just keep in mind that airlines are not required to offer compensation "damages" in the case of delays, so demanding them can be a waste of energy.