Travel Advice: Be your own advocate

By | June 3, 2016

Be your own advocate because no one else is going to advocate for you.  I think this is good advice for life in general, but especially when traveling.

Flights get delayed due to weather, mechanical issues, staffing, etc.  Workers’ strike shuts down public transportation in a foreign city.  It’s a holiday and all the taxi drivers are taking the day off.  These are all scenarios that have come up in my travels.  When they come up there are two options.  Wait for someone else to fix your situation (guess what, this may take a while) or find a solution for yourself.

Two Examples

On my recent mileage run to Copenhagen I had a layover in Paris CDG.  When I got to passport control there was a mob of people with no one official explaining where the line started or what was going on.  After waiting for 20 minutes and moving no where, I realized that there were only TWO passport control agents for a line of roughly 2,000 passengers.  Others in line seemed resigned to the fact that they had to wait in the line and were going to miss their flights.  Instead I advocated for myself and went to the Air France info desk and explained the situation and asked what other options I had.  After a bit, I found out that I could go through the non-transit passport control, then re-enter the airport terminal and go through security again.  While it was definitely a roundabout way to go, I ended up making my flight.

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Just this past weekend I was coming home from Amsterdam and was booked AMS-LHR-LAX on a British Airways ticket (with LHR-LAX on AA metal) and then LAX-SEA on a separate Alaska ticket.  My AMS-LHR flight was delayed a few hours which meant I would miss all my connecting flights.  The BA staff at the lounge told me that there was nothing to do; the earlier flight out was completely full.  A line was forming behind me so I said I could wait and let others go ahead of me to check in to the lounge, graciously thanking the staff for her help with solving my problem.  After the line died down, she checked again and was able to get me in the last seat on the earlier flight.  Yeah for being a single flyer!

Unfortunately, even with the earlier flight once I arrived at London Heathrow I got to my gate (after running through both Terminal 5 and 3 like a madman) just after the doors had been closed for the flight.  The plane was still there but the agents said there was nothing they could do to reopen the boarding.  I knew this was not a battle that could be won so I headed back to the BA help desk.  I was automatically rebooked to a later LHR-LAX flight on BA metal but that meant I would need to rebook my LAX-SEA flight to a 2:00am arrival.  Not ideal, I did a bit of research on my phone and found out that there was a direct LHR-SEA flight.  The first agent I spoke with said if I wanted to get on that flight he would need to reprice my entire ticket (he looked up the price but didn’t actually tell me what it would have been… I’m sure it would have been in the $1,000s).  Realizing I wasn’t getting anywhere, I spoke to another agent.  I explained the situation, that my final destination was SEA via Alaska Airlines, one of BA’s partners.  After some pushback she asked for my Alaska flight info, looked it up, and rebooked me on the direct LHR-SEA flight.

Do your research

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The agent could have insisted I stick with my original itinerary and left it up to me to figure out my LAX-SEA connection.  The point was that I did my research, presented her with the facts (BA had a direct flight to SEA, BA and AS are partner airlines) and she was nice enough to make the change for me.  She didn’t have to help me, but I think doing my homework and presenting the info without emotion helped my case.

The same day I saw a passenger get in an argument with a gate agent over where his checked luggage ended up.  He was convinced that it had been sent ahead on an earlier flight.  The agent said that on international flights your checked luggage must always fly with you.  If he wasn’t on the flight, his baggage had to have been off loaded.  The passenger got upset, but in that case, there was nothing that his fighting or arguing could change.  He was misinformed, but unwilling to realize that because he hadn’t done his homework and/or was acting off of bad info.

Don’t be a bully

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Not only do you have to be informed, but your attitude and tone go a long way.  Emotions are high when traveling.  I get it.  I’m tired, hungry, stressed and worried about being able to make it to work the next day.  You fill in the blanks for your own travel emotions.  It is easy to take out your stress on a gate agent or airline employee.  But that typically won’t get you anywhere.

Acting entitled also doesn’t work most of the time.  I’ve heard people say “I am a platinum member, why won’t you do XY or Z?”  Just because you have elite status doesn’t mean that every staff member is going to bend the rules for you or magically make something happen that can’t.

However, I have found that it doesn’t hurt to subtly mention your status.  A better way to go would be “I’ve had a crazy morning with my flight being delayed!  But thankfully I’m here now.  I try to travel with your company whenever I have the option, in fact I am a platinum member because I enjoy traveling with you.  I’ve always had such good experiences, do you think you could see if you can help me out with X?”

…know when to fold ’em

In my “real” career I supervise staff that work with children.  One advice I give is to “pick your battles”.  In the earlier example where I got to the gate and the plane door had been shut, I could have stayed there, arguing with the gate agent, and become more frustrated.  This wouldn’t have helped my situation.  That ship had sailed, there was no getting on that flight.  I had to let it go and refocus my self advocacy on a new area to improve my situation.

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One thing I constantly have to remind myself when I get worked up is that there are bigger deals in the world.  If I don’t get the seat I want or get delayed a few hours, my life will go on.  Perspective is sometimes the best medicine.

So next time something goes wrong in your travel, take a deep breath and focus on what steps you can do to help yourself out.  Be your own advocate because no one else is going to be.

 

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