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Today’s lesson comes courtesy of a hydraulic failure on a regional jet that was supposed to take my wife and I to Washington Dulles (IAD) for the first leg of our trip to Peru.  I had originally forgot to book this CLE-IAD flight, but thankfully remembered in time!

Because our flight to Lima was on LAN (and therefore a separate ticket), I knew that it is sometimes hazardous to book connecting flights on different airlines.  So I booked us with a 7 hour layover in Dulles.  CLE-IAD leaving at 2:40 p.m. arriving at 4:05 p.m. with our overnight flight to Lima not departing until 11 p.m.

But then…. a mechanical issue (hydraulics!) caused a delay with our flight.  Since this type of thing happens periodically (frequently?) here are 6 tips to help you in the case of flight delays

I’ve written about this before in the aftermath of my business class flight from Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus that was completely canceled, but I thought I’d revisit the subject given today’s events.

(SEE ALSO: 5 things I did right when my flight was canceled)

(SEE ALSO: 3 mistakes I made when our flight was canceled)

Flight delayed!

1. Stay calm and polite

This is the most important thing to do.  Yes, you want to make the most of your opportunities (see #2 below) but remain calm and polite.  In the case of irregular options, gate agents and other airline personnel have nearly god-like powers to fix the problem and get you where you need to go, and they’re much more likely to help you if you’re nice!

2. Be alert and proactive

So, having said that, you absolutely want to be as pushy as you can while staying polite.  And that starts with being alert and attentive to what is going on.  As SOON as it looks like there MIGHT be a problem, start preparing.

In my case, once the gate agent made the announcement that they were checking something out and would make an additional update in the next 10 minutes, I went over to the gate and just hung out there.  That way, when she got on the microphone again and said there was going to be a delay, I was right at the head of the line (#2 actually).

The reason that you want to be at the beginning of the line is that as the gate agents start accommodating other passengers, the seats on the flights that could help YOU start filling up.  Or, if it takes a LONG time to speak to someone, other connecting flights that could have worked for you might take off without you!

3. Know your options!

Another good tip for when things go wrong is to know your options.  In my case, I got out my phone and used Google Flights to see what other options there were.

(SEE ALSO: 6 reasons Google Flights is the best flight search engine)

I was lucky in that I had several hours to play with, but I saw that there was a 2nd direct flight from CLE-IAD leaving at 7:55 p.m. that would still get us into IAD with an hour or so to spare, so I asked her to speculatively book us on that later flight, which she did.

There were also a few connecting flights that might have worked but I chose to wait it out here in Cleveland (time will tell if that was a good idea or not).  I even considered just leaving the airport and renting a car and DRIVING to Dulles if nothing would work, though that was obviously a last resort.

The gate agent thanked me for being so prepared with options.

4. Don’t check a bag (if you can help it)

Checking a bag shouldn’t be a problem, but it complicates things especially if you get rebooked on another flight.  It certainly increases your risk of baggage delays, so if you can avoid it, I recommend it.

Whenever we travel, we try to do it with just a carryon and a personal item / backpack.  Even when we all travel together as a family of 8, that is our go-to plan.  You’d be surprised how much stuff you can fit in 8 carryon bags and 8 suitcases 🙂

5. Use your elite status and lounge access (if you have it)

I’m not one who has chased airline elite status, but if you have it, now is the time to use it!  Make your way to an airline lounge instead of waiting in line at the gate.  If you have multiple people in your party, and depending on the severity of your flight delay / cancellation, you can even leave one person in line at the gate while another goes to the lounge and figure out who gets taken care of first.

I have heard that in some cases, even if you’re not a member of the lounge, if you act like you belong, they will take care of you.  Though with the number of credit cards that offer lounge access, I wouldn’t expect it to be a problem.  Personally, I am overflowing with way more United Club day passes than I can ever possibly use.  In my case, I went to the United Club and burned 2 of my day passes

6. Followup!

I asked several times if we were confirmed on the later flight, and then, because I’ve heard too many times of people not processing upgrades or other flight changes correctly, I went into the United Club Cleveland (conveniently right near our departing gate) and had the lounge agents verify that we were booked and confirmed on the later flight.

Plus I was just excited to be able to actually USE one of my United Club day passes! (I can never seem to find a use for them!).  The United Club agent confirmed that we were booked on the later flight with confirmed seats (in first class even!)

Readers – what tips do you have about what to do when there are flight delays or other potential tip ruining delays? 

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