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What If Your Travel Plans Go Awry? Know Your Rights Before You Head Out

J Pat Carter
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Most of us can neither fix nor fly airplanes. So when a flight is delayed or canceled, there's very little most passengers can do about it.

But you have options when travel plans get fouled up. And even if those options don't get you to your destination on time, they could at least make you more comfortable, or compensate you for your trouble.

KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley has these pointers for the next time you're sitting on the tarmac for a couple hours, or you miss your connection or your luggage misses you:

1. Airlines Have To Lock In Your Fare For 24 Hours

That means you can hold a fare in place, shop for better fares, and then come back and purchase if you don't find a better deal. Some airlines, like Alaska, also let you change or cancel your reservation at no penalty within 24 hours.

2. You Can Ask For Money

If your flight is canceled or you're bumped, you'll probably be offered frequent flier miles or a voucher toward another flight. Now, let's not be short-sighted. Those are good forms of compensation. But if you don't plan to fly that airline in the future, money is obviously more useful.

3. Be Nice

You won't be the only passenger inconvenienced, so don't flip out. No one should have to put up with a childish fit, and even if manners weren't an issue, it just won't work. Be a grownup, take a deep breath and be polite, patient and firm. You'll get much further, and you'll avoid becoming the star of an embarrassing viral video titled "Passenger flips out at airport."

4. Don't Be Afraid To Call The Airline

If you're hitting a brick wall and not getting a reasonable solution, call the airline's customer service number. Do it from the airport. This is also a good way to beat other passengers onto a new flight when yours gets canceled. (Sorry, other passengers.)

5. Leverage Social Media To Your Advantage

Important note: This is not about public shaming; it's about getting a response from the airline. If you're not getting help from the gate agent or the customer service number, then try the airline's Facebook page. Write a polite-but-direct explanation of your experience. Most airlines are also fairly responsive on Twitter.

Want more information? You can learn more from the Aviation Consumer Protection division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.


"Going Places" is KPLU’s weekly exploration of travel, near and far. It’s co-hosted by Ed Ronco and travel expert Matthew Brumley, founder ofEarthbound Expeditions, which guides tours for clients including KPLU. 



Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.