Everything You Should Watch Out for When Booking a Flight, According to a Pilot
In the world of flying, some airlines are a bit like magicians; not everything is as it appears.
Last week, Chris Manno released “A Pilot’s Guide for Fearful Flyers,” a book wherein he shares his tips for flying, accrued over more than 30 years of airline service. In the spirit of demystification, he spoke with Travel + Leisure about the secrets of air travel and the “gotchas” that passengers should watch out for.
Over the past few months, incidents of “bumping” — whether voluntary or involuntary (see April’s United debacle) — have made national headlines. While many passengers may be tempted to volunteer for a bump, Manno advised asking a few follow-up questions before giving up a seat.
Passengers should ensure they have a “confirmed seat” on their next flight — otherwise they “could very well end up on stand-by, competing for the few empty seats on subsequent flights and an indefinite travel delay,” Manno told T+L. And even with a confirmed seat, it’s reasonable to ask for meal vouchers during the wait.
Passengers should also be clear about the next flight on which they’re getting rebooked. A “later” flight may not necessarily mean the next flight. For passengers who only have a few hours to volunteer, this clarification could make a big difference.
“Passengers do have leverage on an overbooked flight,” Manno told T+L. “If no one accepts the initial offer, the compensation level will be raised. I've often wanted to tell passengers at the gate, ‘Wait, that'll go higher.’ But of course I don't.”
“I used to tell folks deplaning in Mexico: ‘Good-bye, don't parasail or zipline,’ and I wasn't kidding,” Manno said. “I've seen too many bandages and casts on the outbound flight.”
Travel insurance is an add-on that most people don’t consider until it’s too late. However Manno highly suggests tacking it on for any vacation. Policies can cover an unexpected hotel room during flight delays or cancellations, medical treatment in foreign countries, and rebooking fees should anything happen during a trip. None of these are covered in a bare bones booking.
Conditions of Carriage
Although buying from a third-party website could save travelers on airfare, it could cost them once they actually get to the airport.
One particular costly example involves a missed connection or a missed flight. When booking directly through an airline, passengers can generally make up their missed connection without a problem. But if that ticket was purchased through a third party, the story can be different.
“Many third party brokers buy blocks of un-booked airline eats within a certain range of the departure time and then can sell them at a slight mark-up,” Manno said. “But, those seats can be specific: this flight, this day. If it's not the airline itself from whom you've booked a seat, you may have no entitlement to any other flight.”
Passengers can check their eligibility in the “conditions of carriage” part of their booking. However Manno advised against this route, as most “conditions of carriage” sections are about 50 pages long. Travelers are better off reaching out to customer service, via online or the phone, with any questions they may have about their booking.