Thanksgiving Travel Tips for Flyers
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
More than 20 million Americans are expected to travel by air over this holiday weekend. And while things can go wrong on any travel day, your chances of getting delayed, missing a flight or losing your luggage are greater when airports are filled to capacity. Joining us with some tips on what to do if something does go wrong is syndicated travel columnist and airline blogger George Hobica.
And, George, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.
Mr. GEORGE HOBICA (Travel Columnist): Thanks, Madeleine. Good to be here.
BRAND: Let's go through some nightmare scenarios and your tips for them. Nightmare number one: You get to the airport early, the lines at the ticket counters and the security are outside and down the block. It looks so long that you're going to miss your flight. So what can you do?
Mr. HOBICA: Well, this has actually happened to me, and I did miss my flight not too long ago. So now I get to the airport even earlier. One thing you can do is certainly throw yourself at the mercy of the crowd and wave your boarding pass with the flight time imminent and hope that they'll let you through, or the security people will let you through. It doesn't always work, but it's certainly better than just standing there and missing your flight.
BRAND: Shouldn't the airline workers have some sort of responsibly to round you up?
Mr. HOBICA: They do sometimes, definitely. But sometimes the lines are so long and there's so many people who are late that you can still miss your flight. But I think it doesn't pay to be meek and just to sit there.
BRAND: OK. Let's say you finally make it to the gate, but your flight is overbooked, and not enough people volunteer to give up their seats and you get bumped. What are your options?
Mr. HOBICA: One thing you can do--and this is a suggestion that was given to me by a lawyer--is you can actually start your own bidding process. You can shout out, you know, `I have a hundred dollars here in addition to whatever the airline will pay you for giving up your seat.' And according to him, that does work. He's done it several times, so that's certainly one option.
BRAND: You're basically bribing your fellow passengers.
Mr. HOBICA: Yeah, sure. Why not? Anything to get home in time.
BRAND: OK. Let's say you miss your connecting flight because the originating flight was late, and there isn't another plane out until tomorrow. What do you do?
Mr. HOBICA: Well, the best way to avoid that happening is simply to take the first flight of the day, because those tend to be on time. And also, to build in a longer connection between connecting flights. If you book on Travelocity or the other booking engines, they will--usually won't let you build in, like, a four-hour layover or two-hour layover. Sometimes I set connecting times of, like, 28 minutes or 35 minutes in Atlanta, which is really ridiculous because especially during this time of year, you know, the chances of missing a flight are quite high.
A travel agent can book--a real travel agent, the kind that has a storefront mom-and-pop, can build in up to four hours in connecting times, so I recommend you seeing a travel agent.
BRAND: And if you miss it and there isn't another plane out till tomorrow, what do you do? Do you have to just sleep in the airport?
Mr. HOBICA: You know, if you ask nicely, and especially if it's a mechanical delay or some kind of problem that the airline could have controlled, they will put you up or give you a hotel room or, you know, meals or so forth. If it's a situation beyond the airline's control, however, they usually don't do anything for you these days. You know, they give you a blanket.
BRAND: OK. Let's say you've actually made it to your destination after all this, but you're waiting and waiting and waiting for your bag to come rolling out of the carousel, but it never does.
Mr. HOBICA: Well, the way to avoid that--I'm into avoidance these days--is to pack very lightly and carry on. Although, I actually put that in my column a few weeks ago, and I got so much hate e-mail, you wouldn't believe it. People were saying, you know, `Yeah, you're one of these privileged people who, you know, stuff the overhead bins with the kitchen sink and there's no room for my luggage and, you know, how dare you recommend people to, you know, carry on luggage.' But I really just recommend packing very, very light.
Now if it turns out that your luggage doesn't show up and if it's just delayed, they really won't do that much for you. They might give you an amenity kit with, you know, toothpaste and a phone card and that sort of thing. But if it's only delayed two or three days, you're kind of out of luck.
And if you're about to take a cruise and the cruise isn't going to stop for two days--this happens to a lot of people--you know, you have to go to the formal nights in your T-shirt, which is not much fun.
BRAND: Syndicated travel writer and blogger George Hobica. His Web site is Airfarewatchdog.com.
Mr. HOBICA: Yes. Happy Thanksgiving.
BRAND: Thank you.
BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.