On our last night in London, my husband’s phone rang in the middle of the night (this is never good, though because of the time difference it wasn’t that late in the US). It was an automated call from US Airways that said…..We are calling because of a change to your flight number (long pause) from (long pause) London Gatwick (pause) to Charlotte (pause). Your flight is now scheduled to depart at (long pause – much later time)….. you get the point. This happened five more times throughout the night as the flight kept getting pushed back.

We still got up at the time we would have for our original flight – partly because I had already ordered room service to be delivered at that time, and partly to see what our other options would be to get home. This marks the eighth day we have been away from our daughter, so it is time to go. Plus my husband has to work tomorrow, but the daughter still trumps in my book! I didn’t immediately see a cause for the delayed inbound aircraft on US Airway’s website, but I went on the assumption it was weather since I saw there had been snow in CLT the day before when the inbound flight would have left.

The US Airways UK call center line was not yet open when I got up, and I quickly gave up on the US number’s hold and decided to wait for the UK line to open so I could just call for free from the hotel phone. At the very least I knew we would mis-connect on our flight from Charlotte to Houston, so that had to be fixed. I didn’t know if there would be any help they could provide beyond that, based on the assumption that it was a weather-related delay and the aircraft was now on the way from the US. However, it was going to arrive at least four hours late, so I decided to see if we could do better on another flight.

I had a little time before the call center opened, so I researched options and saw our best bet was a direct flight from Heathrow to Houston on United that left late enough for us to make it…if US was willing to rebook us onto it. We were originally booked using US Airways Dividend Miles onto a US Airways flight. I called right when the US Airways UK call center opened and was told that they had already placed us on standby for the first CLT – IAH flight that our schedule would now allow given the delay, but that it was full, so we were confirmed on the one after that. That flight would get us in to Houston after midnight, which would mean almost 24 hours from the moment I was on the call with the US agent. That is a very long travel day just to get back from London. He said there were no other options available due to the flight schedules to the US.

This is where you can make a difference in your own life by being informed and proactive. I could have just said thank-you-very-much, hoped for no further delays, not seen my kid at all that day, and been totally wiped out the following day. Or….present a viable option and see if it works. I asked specifically about the United direct flight to Houston from Heathrow (that I knew had seats available in business class and saw was scheduled for an on-time departure with the plane already on the ground), and after a brief hold, we were confirmed on the United flight. Before hanging up, I confirmed that we had actually been ticketed on that flight by looking it up myself on United’s website with the confirmation number given. We didn’t have any spare time for mishaps.

We quickly finished getting ready and made a bee-line for Heathrow. If all goes as planned, we will arrive home at least eight hours before we would have if we weren’t proactive and informed….and lucky. Presenting your own “Plan B” won’t always work, but it will never work if you don’t ask. Thank you to US and United for helping us get home today (assuming no further hiccups!).

I’d love to hear your stories about how being proactive when facing delays or cancellations has helped you get where you need to be!

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This post brought to you by the free Wifi in the Skyteam Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 4 that somehow you can access using a United BusinessFirst boarding pass…who knew? (well, probably everyone but me….)

Posted by mommypoints | 21 Comments

21 Responses to “Being Proactive During Delays/Cancellations Pays Off (Again)”

  1. so you booked this ticket using award miles and got re-ticketed to a revenue, mileage earning fare on United! Kudos :)

  2. Joel says:

    Well, the UA flights out of T4 are the pmCO flights, which never made it to T1 with the pmUA flights after the merger. As there already is a *A lounge in T1 I guess post-merger UA decided that paying SkyTeam for lounge access was more viable than setting up a new lounge in T4 for such few flights.

  3. mommypoints says:

    Jamison, we were lucky, but not that lucky….I class.
    Joel, I guess so too – the name just throws me off since UA is clearly not SkyTeam. ;)

  4. DaninSTL says:

    Although I’ve been extremely lucky over the years not counting the airline grounds on 9-11 that left me in PHX and resulted in a VERY long drive home to STL that week. I always try to look for alternative flights. What I do is write down or print out all the options I like then I take a photo of my lists with my iPhone so the flight numbers and times are at my finger tips even without Internet access (which has paid off a few times). I can always fall back to the Internet when available but it really narrows it down.

    The other big tip is if your flight is cancelled or big delayed at the gate is to call your travel agent or the airline right away, don’t go stand in line. If that fails try to find a phone bank, reticket kiosk or another gate agent. Avoid standing in line as this hurts your chances of getting another seat. Time is the enemy as those other flights fill up.

    Great tip on using the UK call center versus the USA one.

  5. brad k says:

    I’m not sure if the ticket necessarily moves from an award ticket to a revenue ticket. When I was on a UA award ticket (over the holidays) and had a disruption to my plans, UA rerouted me on US and when I submitted, did not receive credit…

  6. Michael says:

    So smart to think alternatively — so many people just follow the sheep –

    – (and nice running into you at The Andaz Liverpool Street)

  7. Pamela T says:

    We had LAN flights cancelled LIM-IPC & return. We were instructed by e-mail to call BA, for we had booked using AVIOS. Before calling, I went to BA and LAN websites looking for options. Turns out we were rebooked LIM-SCL-IPC-SCL. Just a teensy problem….we had one hour, yes, at IPC….and, we had a previously booked flight from LIM to BOG after the IPC trip.

    Speaking to the BA rep I explained our dilemma and asked if he could put us on the nonstop SCL-BOG flight on LAN. this is the routing I identified in my research prior to calling BA. Otherwise we would have to fly back to LIM from SCL and then on to BOG all in the middle of night with no sleep. The rep conferred with a supervisor and was able to get us a full day at IPC as well as the nonstop SCL to BOG. There was a bit more involved (minimal), but we got what we needed without disrupting our flight from US to LIM or our Bogota plans.

    Now, to do battle with UA to cancel the Mileage Plus award tickets LIM-BOG without paying the cancellation / redeposit fees. Any ideas? Anyone?

  8. Kris Ziel says:

    I had a mileage run where the first flight was keep getting delayed more and more. The flight I changed to after the first delay was going to end up misconnecting, so I needed to change it again. As a flight to ORD was boarding I called United reservations and between final boarding and door closing the United phone agent got me confirmed on that flight and subsequent flights. Always pays to have a backup going into any trip. And I got another 1,500 miles out of the mileage run.

  9. Ken says:

    I thought airlines have no responsibility to do things like this when it’s due to weather. I had 4 late Southwest flights that ultimately ended up leaving us stranded in the Kansas City airport overnight the day after Xmas. SW told us they wouldn’t do anything since all the delays were out of their control.

  10. Ryan says:

    Ken: Rules are VERY different ex-EU than ex-US. While they don’t have to give you compensation for weather delays, the rules on accommodation apply regardless of the cause of the delay (so hotel, food, 2x phone calls, etc… still apply).

    In particular, they can get hit hard by the courts for refusing reasonable requests (such as this rebooking, which is close to original time and under same conditions), so allowing this request is an easy choice for US.

  11. Glad you were able to get home directly! I had a delay to Cancun in Friday for two hours due to maintenance. Stayed on the same flight, though.

  12. grandma says:

    Welcome home….early!

  13. mommypoints says:

    Agreed – leaving the EU you do have lots of flight protections if things go wrong. Our direct United flight was amazing and we are grateful to be back home much sooner than we otherwise would have been. Always always pays to do your research and ask!

  14. Knowing the right number to call saved the day for us when I got stuck in Frankfurt in December due to bad weather. After sitting on the airplane for six hours, the flight was finally cancelled and United provided us with the hotel rooms nearby. My sister had a different itinerary, traveling from Frankfurt to Prague and next day to Munich. But when we got to the hotel, I checked her flight and it was cancelled as well. So my parents and I went back to the airport to try to figure out what happened to her.

    As there were literally thousands of people in seemingly never-ending queues to talk to anyone, we soon gave up on that idea and then somehow I spotted her in one of the lines (what are the chances of that??). Turned out that after their flight to Prague was cancelled, she was standing in line for over four hours at that point (and was not anywhere close to the end). Since she was on a United award ticket, I quickly called United Awards Desk and had her rebooked on Frankfurt-Munich flight in the morning. Took about 20 minutes on the phone (the line moved about two feet in that time) and she was out of line and out of the airport with us.

  15. M says:

    Which site(s) did you do your research on and did you specifically search for revenue or award flights?

  16. The Star Alliance lounge at LHR is horrible. You’re better off with the Skyteam lounge … which Continental once was a part of ;).

  17. Walt K says:

    I’ve had a couple issues with problems at DCA where the only thing they were offering was flying out the next day, but I’ve suggested alternate flights out of IAD and been accomodated.

  18. ScottL says:

    Did you pay 55K miles per ticket or 95K? Why didnt you blog that the US deal was still on??

  19. Jamie says:

    Welcome home! No matter how long the trip, it’s always the journey back to your kids that seems like it takes forever. So, I’m glad you were able to use your expertise to minimize that delay.

  20. mommypoints says:

    Scott, 55K – but these tickets were booked in March 2012. I blogged about it then, but sadly that option has been gone for a few weeks now.

  21. [...] morning of our scheduled return from London, we were awoken early by my husband’s phone regularly going off with a warning that our booked US Airw……and delayed more…and then delayed even more. It was pre-dawn when we realized we would [...]

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