Woody Allen once said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans."
Sometimes, during air travel, you'd think that you'd hear laughter all day long.
Delays, missed connections, oversold flights, mechanical failures - all of these issues impact any travel that is confined within a schedule. I was reminded of that fact last week when a friend was traveling back east. His first flight was delayed getting out in the morning, so what should have been an hour layover turned into missing his flight altogether when his plane was stuck waiting for a gate at the crowded Denver International Airport.
His connecting flight was pushing away from the gate as he was walking up to it. United - per their policy - booked him on the next available flight out. Unfortunately, it wasn't going out until the following morning. Yes, there were two other flights headed for Logan, but those flights were already oversold, even just at noon. He had to be home prior to 8 AM the following day. Not much of a conundrum there - by plane, train, or automobile, he had to get back.
So what can a passenger do?
First, if you can avoid it at all, set your travel days for the road (or sky) less traveled. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are light passenger days, so if you fly when planes are less likely to be full, your odds of getting bumped to another flight that same day increase should you miss your connection. If you have to fly on busy travel days, always try to book the first flights out in the morning. If there are any issues, your odds of still getting there that day increase.
Second, if it's a mechanical issue that's delayed your arrival and caused your missed connection, go stand in line at customer service or wait on hold for your airline customer service agent and ask about them booking you on another airline to get home if the rest of the flights are full. What else do you have to do? Each airline's policy can vary, so this isn't bankable, but it never hurts to ask. If they can't get you out the same day and you can fly the next day, ask - politely - for a hotel voucher. Remember, the customer service agent in front of you is not responsible for the issue, and has little control over the big picture. Be nice. Smile. Check your hostility and frustration at the door.
Third, if it's weather-related, your being stuck is not considered the airline's fault. Be prepared to pay for your hotel room, rental car, and food if it's overnight. Again, it never hurts to ask for vouchers or for coupon codes from your airlines to help defray costs, but always keep an emergency-use credit card with you.
Lastly, if you absolutely have to get to that next city, grab your smartphone and head to Kayak.com. It searches multiple airlines all at once, connecting you quickly to the offering airline or agency right from your phone. Is it preferable to pay for another one-way ticket to get where you need to go? No. But you're either paying for a hotel, rental car, and meals, or forking over the cash for a one-way fare. The smaller the airport, the less likely it is you will get out, so keep that in mind. If you're in a hub, most major cities offer red-eye flights for a decent one-way price. If driving is an option, head for the rental car center.
Missed connections can be stressful but they don't have to be disaster. No matter where you end up for the day, however, enjoy being where you are.