Using a Flight Delay to Your Advantage

While most of the traveling public dreads the announcement that their flight is delayed, I usually welcome such announcements.

To be sure, delays are not always a great thing. My Los Angeles-Las Vegas United flight was delayed yesterday by 2.5 hours, ruining my evening plans and my trip to Vegas (more on that in a future post). But today, I worked out a one-hour ATC delay to my advantage.

This afternoon I was scheduled to fly from Burbank to Philadelphia via San Francisco. My SFO-PHL upgrade had cleared and I was looking forward to getting back to PHL late tonight and spending most of my day tomorrow studying for my upcoming exams.

But that plan was not meant to be. A few hours before my BUR-SFO flight this morning, I got an EasyUpdate from United that my first flight was delayed by just over an hour due to foul weather in SFO. My scheduled layover was only 1 hour, 10 minutes so I immediately consulted ExpertFlyer with a specific question in mind: are there any seats with F space available tomorrow (Sunday)? As it turned out, there was one first class seat left on the morning SFO-PHL flight tomorrow. Perfect.

You see, when "irregular operations" occur, you are suddenly bestowed with wide latitude to freely modify your ticket, even if it is a bargain-basement, highly-restricted K or L fare. I dialed United and asked to be placed in first class on tomorrow's SFO-PHL flight since I was confirmed on this afternoon's flight in first class. After some consultation with her supervisor, the agent rebooked me in full F on my desired flight for tomorrow. Credited to my British Midland account, I will receive 300% EQM. And for good measure, I'm now confirmed in first on a CR7 from BUR-SFO as well.

I chose to fly tomorrow instead of today so I could spend and extra day with friends and family in California, but I could have re-routed just about any way I wanted today, tomorrow, or literally any date in the future. And this is not just a 1K benefit. I remember a few years ago after a freak summer rainstorm in Los Angeles my flight to Washington was cancelled and all the other flights that day were zeroed out. Even as a Premier communicating with the Indian call center, I was re-booked into three-cabin first class the following day.

Here's how you can maximize your chance of getting what you want during irr/ops:

1. If the tone of the agent doesn't sound good, hang up and try again. I generally don't mess with any agent who identifies herself using her title (i.e. "This is Ms. so-and-so").

2. Research alternate routings and give them to the reservations agent (or airport customer service agent). They will appreciate you doing their work for them and be more amiable to your request.

3. If your upgrade was confirmed on a previous flight, ask to be reconfirmed in first or business on your new flight. Sometimes, you will be told no, but if you're courteous and sound reasonable, chances are you'll find yourself placed back into a premium cabin--perhaps with a full-fare booking code.

4. Also realize that if you are content with your current routing, oftentimes ATC and other delays may be reduced prior to departure and time may also be made up in the air. If you really want to make your connecting flight, keep what you've got and be ready to run after deplaning in your connection city.

Tomorrow is one of the biggest travel days of the year, both my flights are F0Y1, and I'm looking forward to an adventure.

See Kevin's take on this as well, here.


Nick November 27, 2010 at 10:44 pm

It should be quite the adventure. I know I'm expecting some chaos Monday morning as the business travelers return with the casual travelers who were stuck overnight.

Darren November 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

Excellent summary on how to be proactive in those situations. How was the travel day on Sunday?

@Darren: Travel was (unfortunately) very smooth. Both flights were full, but no VDB opportunities. Excellent purser on SFO-PHL flight.

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