Ask T+L | Air Travel QA
Q: My flight was canceled, and I’m going to miss a connection. What should I do?
A: The number of canceled flights in the United States has increased by more than 50 percent over the past five years, making this scenario all too common. While you can’t completely prevent a cancellation from happening, you can decrease the likelihood and mitigate its inconveniences by booking direct flights or choosing itineraries with longer layovers, so that even if your first flight is canceled or delayed, there’s still time to catch up to your connecting flight. Also, make sure to sign up online for airline e-mail, text, and voice-mail notification systems. They will automatically alert you with the status of your next departure as soon as you turn on your phone or PDA after landing. If you’ve missed your connection already, don’t line up at the gate to find another flight. Get on the phone and call the carrier while, at the same time, exiting the arrivals area (if possible) and heading for the nearest ticket counter to make your rebooking plea. Finally, although airlines often promise to house, compensate, and rebook you in the case of a non-weather-related cancellation, always check an airline’s contract of carriage on its Web site before you fly to know exactly what your rights are.
Q: When I checked my baggage on a recent trip, the airline didn’t charge an excess baggage fee because of my elite status, but I got hit with a fee when I made my connection. Could I have avoided the charge?
A: While airlines within alliances like Oneworld and SkyTeam often honor one another’s privileges (i.e., if you’re traveling on one airline and connecting to another with a less generous check-in restriction, the first will be honored), there are exceptions. Read the small print in Delta Airlines’ contract of carriage on your ticket, for instance, and you’ll find that Delta Connection flights operating in and out of Mexico won’t accept excess baggage, even for a fee. And if you transfer to an airline that doesn’t belong to any alliance, all bets are off. You might be able to waive Delta’s 50-pound restriction because of your Medallion status on the way to Dubai, but transfer to Jazeera Airways—which restricts weight to 44 pounds—and you’ll have to pay a hefty fee. Check airline sites for baggage rules applicable to both the class and the route you’re flying. Some airlines may look the other way due to elite member status, but don’t assume that all carriers are willing to extend special privileges.
Q: I lost my passport while in transit; what should I do?
A: Contacting the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if you lose your passport abroad is the logical first step, but if you misplace it somewhere between boarding your flight and reaching passport control, you’ll follow the rules of the country you’re visiting. “Once you disembark, it really depends on the discretion of the country’s immigration officials,” explains U.S. State Department spokesman Steve Royster. You’ll likely be sent to a secondary inspection area, where you can contact your embassy or consulate, which will locate your information and fax it to immigration officials. The airport’s proximity to a consulate or embassy is the key to how quickly your situation is resolved. According to the American embassy in Mexico City, this very scenario recently happened to a woman arriving in the capital. Luckily, she landed during business hours, and the consulate was able to e-mail a copy of her passport to Mexican immigration. Land in Cancún and you might have more of a problem, since the nearest consulate is in Mérida, nearly 200 miles away. Be sure to keep your passport number recorded in a separate area to speed up the process of vouching for your identity. And consider scanning your passport, birth certificate, and driver’s license and e-mailing them to a secure address that you can access while you’re away.