Many people consider themselves to have special talents or areas of expertise. In spite of my Master’s Degree in Educational Theatre, I think I acquired an expertise for something quite unique: how to deal with airplane debacles. That’s right, I’ve seen it all. I have missed more flights, got bumped off more flights, slept in more airports, had more unruly passengers and more insane landings than most people have had regular flights. I am not a flight attendant. At the ripe old age of 24, I have learned a thing or two about your rights as a passenger. I’ve been to Europe five times, been to South America, Africa and all over North America. The following are some tips I’ve acquired in my travels that all travelers should be aware of.
I’m not going to lie; the first tip is to cry. That’s right. The more helpless you look, or the less in control you look, the more people will want to help you. Yelling, screaming and acting confident will get you a bad night sleep in an airport. Playing the helpless victim will get you on a plane. I was flying home from Africa by myself, with a plane ticket marked for a different day. I made it off the continent, but was hounded in Belgium, because my plane tickets were wrong. Most people would have paid the $200 fee, or complained, but not me. I simply reacted in shock. I began to tell the ticket agent that it looked like I will have to sit in the airport for six more weeks, until my ticket was valid. Then I looked down, put my hand on my head and slowly walked away. The woman was not immediately calling my bluff, so I began to lay out my stuff on the floor to show I meant business. In six hours I was on a flight home at no extra charge.
Tip number two is to remember that people are busy, they have lives and the last thing they want to do is hear your sob story. This is why you should always tell a sob story. The longer your story and the more committed you are to telling it, the quicker people will want you out of their lives and on a plane home. I missed a flight home to New York from Seattle once. There was a terrible accident on the highway, and I just did not make the flight. When I got to the airport, I was told I had to wait until the following day to fly out. Immediately, I dramatized the accident in the form of a long story. Then I demanded to see a manager. When the manager came out, and here’s the key to success, I RE-told the story from the beginning. So now the original ticket agent had to hear the story twice. Then they brought another agent over to help, and I immediately told the story again. Now the first woman had heard it three times and the second woman had heard it two times and so on. This sequence should happen until you get what you need. Always start your story from the beginning and tell it the exact same way. I know you might be tempted to add more drama, but DON’T. If the story changes, they won’t be bored by it. Needless to say later that day I was on a flight to NYC.
Here’s a tip for those who have fears or hesitations in the air. In Argentina I flew on a domestic flight in the middle of the Andes Mountains. If that turbulence did not bring down the plane, nothing will. I seem to attract turbulent flights, and have gotten more and more nervous over the years. So here are some tips to calm you down. First thing is to look at your flight attendants. If they are still serving drinks, have no fears. If your flight crew has been asked to sit down due to turbulence, then it is ok to panic a little bit. The more you panic, the more other people will calm you down. There have been many flights where I was convinced the plane was tipping over, but no one else seemed to even notice. It helps to know that what I perceive to be a plane flipping upside down, seems “normal” to other passengers. Lastly, you can always ask the flight attendants if something is normal or not. In one particularly turbulent flight, our plane seemed to be plummeting towards the Earth. The flight crew did not seem to notice the impending crash, because they kept serving drinks as if nothing was happening. To make things more frustrating, the other passengers didn’t even seem to notice that the plane was tipping over, bumping and CLEARLY about to crash. But that’s neither here nor there. In situations like that, I typically ask a flight attendant, “Is that bump normal?” Nine times out of ten they will look at you and say, “What bump?”
All joking aside, passengers should know their rights, and how to handle tricky situations. One thing to note is that if an airline bumps you off a flight, you are entitled to compensation. If you are not offered compensation, you should request it. Compensation can be anything from a free flight, to a hotel for the night. It is important to note that cancelled flights due to weather do not entitle you to compensation.
Another tip is to learn all your rights as a passenger so that you can get properly compensated. Airlines may not always offer you compensation upfront, so you might have to request it by citing your rights, in which case they are usually more than accommodating. Luggage is not supposed to travel without a passenger, especially on an international flight. When flying to Africa, I was bumped off the first leg of my flight from Kansas City to Washington DC. Of course in this instance, my bags went on ahead of me. It was days before I could get another flight to DC, and I was assured that my luggage would never make it to Belgium without me. I got to DC only to discover my luggage had made it to Belgium. I was reassured that since I was switching airlines in Belgium, my luggage would never get to Uganda without me. In Belgium, he Belgians informed me that my bags did switch airlines, and make it to Uganda. Of course my bags would never go from Uganda to Kenya without me. They did. Luckily, someone called the airport in Nairobi and my bags were held for days waiting for me to arrive. I can’t even begin to cite all the security codes that violated, so needless to say I received some compensation.
Another great tip, be nice! Most ticket agents and flight crew are not the cause of your problems. A delayed flight in New York has nothing to do with the ticket agent in Las Vegas who has to hear you vent about it. I know it seems easy to lash out at them, since they are your direct liaison to the airlines, but they do not create thunderstorms, they do not sit around thinking about the best ways to annoy passengers and they certainly aren’t out to get you. The nicer you are to them, the nicer they are to you. When getting compensated, remember that a lot of it is based on the discretion of the person you are dealing with. So yelling and name-calling is probably going to get you a long night stay in an airport that for some reason thinks three degrees is an acceptable temperature. Having slept in many airports, I now know that whether you’re into Fahrenheit or Celsius, three degrees seems to be a standard temperature for all airports. That being said, kind words will most likely get you a more immediate flight and possibly a hotel room at the airline’s expense.
The last words of wisdom I leave you is to never panic. Eventually, someway, somehow you will get to your destination!