When it comes to real travel mishaps, it seems like they come with the territory. Here are ways to handle six common travel mishaps and save your vacation in the process.
1. The pay-too-much mishap
You’ve been designated the official airfare shopper for the upcoming family trip or jaunt with friends. Naturally, your No. 1 job is to find the cheapest tickets, but when you shop for multiple travelers, this is easy to screw up.
The problem: Although airfares vary in price, even in economy, you may not get the best price possible unless you shop for tickets one at a time.
Solution: See that box that says "number of travelers"? Instead of putting in "4" or whatever number in your party, put in "1." That’s because there’s a quirk in airline reservation systems that requires multiple tickets sold in a single transaction be the same price. Example: Let’s say there are two tickets available for $100 each, while all the others cost $200; if you shop for your group of four all at once in a single transaction -- as most of us would do --- you’ll pay $200 a piece for each ticket or $800. But if you shopped one at a time, you would have gotten the $100 price for two tickets and $200 each for the two others, paying a total of $600. Of course, when you shop, there may be plenty of the cheapest-priced tickets for the number in your party, but you won’t know until you give the one-at-a-time shopping method a try.
2. The tight-connection mishap
Did you know? There’s a thing called “Minimum Connection Time” (MCT), which is set by airlines and airports. It is the minimum amount of time an able-bodied passenger needs to race from one plane to another in order to make their connection.
The problem: Some U.S. flights allow a generous hour or two of connecting time, and up to three hours for international connections, but you’re supposed to make some domestic connections in few as 30 minutes! If you or a loved one has trouble moving quickly, this can be tough. And what if your incoming plane is delayed and arrives 15, 20 or 30 minutes late? That’s been known to happen, especially during stormy weather.
Solution: I know a lot of people that will not fly a connecting flight with a mere 30-minute layover and I’m one of them -- too much can happen to delay the incoming flight. I’m not saying only fly nonstops, because connecting flights can be significantly cheaper. What I am saying is give yourself at least 45 minutes or an hour between domestic flights (or more). As for international connecting flights, I like to fly in the day or evening before the flight that’ll take me abroad, just to be on the safe side.
3. The unexpected-fee mishap
A few years ago, a friend of mine was at the airport with her daughter who was heading out of the country for a study-abroad trip. That’s when the airline rep asked mom for $200. She said, “What on earth for?” For the kid’s bag because it weighed over 50 pounds, so mom had to pay a $200 overweight penalty. Mom was not pleased.
The problem: The kid should have weighed her bag at home!
Solution: Learn your airline’s size and weight limitations. If you mess up anyway, but are traveling with family or friends, distribute your excess clothing or whatever weighs the most into your friends’ suitcases. Or, pull your heaviest items out like coats and boots and wear them. Worse come to worse, maybe a friend could ship some items for you. Last resort: Pay the darn fee or dump some of your stuff in the trash.
4. The bad-passenger mishap
It seems like a week doesn’t go by without hearing at least one story of a truly terrible airline passenger. Earlier this month, it was a man who allegedly attacked a flight attendant before knocking down six police officers. And I will never forget a woman I featured in one of my first columns for ABC, called, "Liquid Soap Lady." When told there was no more alcohol, she proceeded to down the contents of a lavatory’s liquid soap dispenser and followed this up by attempting to bite a crew member’s leg.
The problem: Such antics are interesting to read about, but can mean hours of unpleasantness on board or hours wasted in a strange airport if the pilot decides to make an emergency landing midway through the flight to dump the bad passenger.
Solution: If you see any kind of problem on board, hit the call button immediately and let the flight attendant deal with the situation (they’re trained for this). And the sooner they a crew member know there’s a problem, the quicker it can be resolved.
5. The what-do-you-mean-my-flight-is-cancelled disaster
It happens -- bad weather or a maintenance issue can mean your flight is grounded.
The problem: There is an event at your destination that you cannot miss so you must find another flight.
The solution: If you absolutely can’t miss an event, fly at least 24 hours early. But if you’re already at the airport, pull out your phone and help your airline rep. Depending where you need to be, you can get a little creative. For example, if your destination is Los Angeles but all flights to L.A. are full, see if your airline can put you on another carrier’s flight to Los Angeles. Those are all full? Check nearby airports like Burbank or Orange County; land at one of those then grab a cab, Uber or Lyft or rent a car to L.A.
6. The my-bag-is-lost mishap
The good news is, airlines are losing fewer and fewer bags each year. And even bags that are supposedly "lost" are usually just delayed -- most turn up within 24 hours or so.
The problem: Who cares about average lost-bag statistics when yours is not on the baggage carousel?
Solution: Don’t leave the airport without making a complete report or you may never see your bag again. Be ready to describe it. In fact, take a picture of your bag right now so you’ll be able to that. And stick a business card inside and outside of your bag to make it easier to prove it’s yours. Finally, be sure the airline knows exactly how to reach you, via cell and email.
One last thing: Most of these really aren’t all that terrible, it’s really a matter of perspective. And if one of these mishaps strikes you, chances are excellent your trip will go on anyway and you will have fun. You will also have a funny story to tell when you get back.
Rick Seaney is the CEO for FareCompare. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.