Planning to fly home for Turkey Day on Wednesday? With weather reports for Thanksgiving travel looking, well, less than ideal, smart travelers should prepare for a rough day at the airport. These tips will help you get to your destination as quickly as possible, sanity intact.
1. Check in early
During bad weather, oversold flights can be more of a problem, as stranded passengers buy up any open seats.
Your best defense against getting bumped? Checking in online as close to 24 hours ahead of time as possible, according to TripAdvisor travel advocate Wendy Perrin. Not only will you be less likely to lose your seat, but you will also have the best shot of choosing a good one.
2. Know your rights
Did everything right but still got bumped? If the airline rebooks you on a flight that will make you more than an hour late, you’re entitled to a cash or check payment of up to 400% of your one-way fare.
The rules are less clear-cut for delays and cancellations. Airlines are not required to pay for meals or other amenities for delayed passengers, though some do, so it’s worth asking (more on that below). If your flight is cancelled, the airline will typically rebook you on their next available flight. In some cases, carriers may be willing to put you on a flight with a different airline, so check out those options, too.
3. Stay informed in real-time
If you get stuck with a cancellation, don’t just let the airline automatically put you on a different flight. First, check out your options at FlightStats.com, which shows delayed and canceled flights all across the country. There may be a different itinerary that’s a better fit for your schedule.
4. Photograph your valuables
Losing expensive belongings is always upsetting, but tack on a crazy snowstorm and chaotic airport and you have the formula for a nervous breakdown.
Be prepared for the worst by keeping receipts for, and snapshots of, anything pricey in your luggage. Airlines are legally obligated to reimburse up to $3,300 for your lost possessions.
5. Turn on the charm
Whether you’re dealing with lost luggage, delays, a cancelled flight, or any other travel nightmare, it’s important to be as polite as possible when making a complaint.
“Take a deep breath. Remember that despite everything that has happened, you are still alive and, in fact, breathing. Then come talk to me and explain your situation,” writes flight attendant Cary Trey at ThePointsGuy.com.
Going a step beyond politeness and being extra kind to the person you’re dealing with—who, let’s face it, has probably been having a pretty bad day, too—can’t hurt. Trey suggests carrying mini-boxes of chocolates to show gratitude to those who go the extra mile to help you out.
If that sounds like a bit much, even a simple, “Thank you so much for your help, and happy Thanksgiving!” will be enough make you stand out from the grumbling masses.