Leaving On A Jet Plane (or at least trying to…)

So far 2023 has been a doozy thanks to the airline industry (special thanks to SWA for bringing all that chaos into 2023!) Hopefully, you were not caught up in that bit of a mess, but I was and so were some of my clients. Fortunately, my clients had the savvy to start tracking down flights that would get them from their domestic location to their international destination, even if it meant overnighting in an unexpected city and flying on a different airline. Fortunately for me, I had the option to drive to my destination, Telluride, CO, which we have done many times. My kids are so used to road tripping they were actually looking forward to the experience. Me- not so much. I am a trooper but it is a lot of work to drive through the entire state of Utah in the winter months when the weather can be very unpredictable. I also saw those horrific photos of everyone’s luggage piled up in Vegas and Denver (nightmarish visions of LHR and FRA this summer!!) and some lost for weeks like Flat Stanley, making its way around the country until it finally ended up where it was supposed to, if lucky enough. My sister’s family and my son had too much valuable snowboarding gear to take that chance, so RoadTrip it Was! We ended up having a great time and New Year’s Eve was saved! We watched the Torch Light Parade of skiers come down the mountain as intended, ooo’d and awww’d at the fireworks, sipped champagne and made it back to the house before midnight where we cooked dinner, played games and had a dance party. Best time ever.

Enough about me…for those of you who haven’t been so lucky in the Flight Club, what’s a passenger to do when the airlines fail us and destroy our travel plans? I wish I had all the answers for this, but I can offer a few suggestions that might make the next time (and sadly, there will probably be a next time) a little smoother.

TRIP INSURANCE: Yes, this is my number one response, and I know you all hear me say it over and over again, but having Trip Insurance should be a non-negotiable for your travel budget. Here’s why:
Scenario- You’re on a non-stop flight to your destination. What could go wrong? A lot. I lived this scenario this past summer. Nonstop flight to Costa Rica. Weather Delay. Divert to Panama City. Not enough crew members to fly a plane (remember Delta this summer?), or to rebook us on another flight or to take our luggage off the plane so we could book ourselves on another flight (I’ll talk about that next). We missed the first two days of our trip. We missed a family spa appointment that was pre-paid. We missed an excursion, partly paid. Guess what? If you miss all that because of the airline- it’s not on the hotel or the supplier to dig into their pockets to make it right. It actually should be on the airline, but in the US, passengers have very little to no rights when there is any sort of delay or cancellation on the airline’s part. In these cases, you are at the mercy of the airline and what they might offer, if anything, to compensate you for your time and investment. Trip insurance will cover some of these losses, all of these losses, or up to a certain amount. It is super important in these situations to take photos of all the things- the board at the gate saying there is a delay, any receipts for food, accommodations, clothing, or transportation that you would not have paid for if not delayed. Screen shot any conversations you have with airline agents on chat in the app or emails confirming what occurred. The more you can prove the quicker and better chance you have to receive the most amount of money back. I partner with Allianz Travel Insurance when booking custom quotes, and sometimes I use the supplier’s Trip Protection because they are easier to work with, less time filing claims, etc., and you get your money back faster. Of course, you can always seek out your own, and some credit card companies will offer trip protection if you paid for the trip with that credit card. However, super important to understand the language around their coverage as it may not actually cover what you need or want it to cover. And, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask the agents all the questions- it is their job to make sure you 10000% understand their policy before you purchase or decide to only use their coverage. There’s a few items like “Pre-Existing” or “Cancel At Anytime” that have strict rules and language to make sure your claims qualify if needed.

CARRY ON: When you can. This is not easy for me, I am a “pack it to the brim and check it so I can relax” traveller. Carrying on stresses me out because I usually forget stuff, or I don’t leave room for things I buy, or it’s just so dang heavy to lift over my head, or what if I don’t have overhead space when I get on the plane?? UGH! I am getting better at it, and realize the benefits. So I have allowed myself in certain situations to carry-on on my way TO my destination, and allow myself to check on my way BACK home. Carrying on is beneficial for several reasons:

1. Your flight is delayed or cancelled. Having your bags with you gives you the freedom to hop on another flight, or get a rental car or whatever mode of transpo to get you to your destination.

2. Going through Customs is so much quicker. You won’t have to wait for your luggage to show up so you can haul it off the belt, push it through Customs then check-it back in again. We all have Global Entry, or are working on it, right? So if you have Global Entry and you check your bag, guess what? You still have to wait with everyone else who doesn’t have Global Entry. I was slightly embarrassed and a tad jealous to watch this gorgeously dressed couple ease through Global and cruise through Customs while I was the first to get through Customs, but one of the last to get out since I had to wait for my bag. 🙄 I mean, sometimes, you just cannot avoid checking, but when you can or you know it’s going to be an easy trip to pack for, carrying on will be in your favor.

3. If you have multiple destinations in your destination. For example- you are moving throughout a country every 2-3 days, most likely, if your bags are lost or delayed, it will be very difficult and/or timely for the airline to find you. Again, carry-on there, check on the way back. I also try to bring an extra bag that I can fold up but fill up during my travels. One that is sturdy enough to check, but also, I rearrange items so that I am carrying on with me things I don’t want to lose (precious or expensive purchases, my favorite handbag) but checking in items I would not be too devastated if I lost. I also purchase Trip Insurance for every trip I take, seriously. If it is lost, then I will file a claim like everyone else and get reimbursed.

4. Tight connections. No nonstop, no problem. Carrying on will assure you that you will have your bag when you arrive. I am not a fan of tight connections, but the airlines seem to think we can maneuver through the airports like a certain sports star back in the day. It seems like connections are either getting tighter or reallllyyyy long. So the nice thing about carrying on with a connection is that you have your stuff. Also, it is nice to be able to rest that heavy personal item you have loaded down and wheel it through the airport instead of suffering neck and shoulder spasms on your next flight.

HAVE A BACK UP PLAN: I get it. No one wants to spend more than they budgeted for on vacation. It is stressful. We all want everything to go as planned. But, sometimes, and most often lately, it doesn’t always work that way. So, if you have purchased the Trip Insurance, in the back of your head you know you can file a claim to regain some of those expenses. If you checked your bag, make sure you have one night’s worth of stuff to get you through in case you and your luggage get separated. You really don’t need a whole suitcase full of pjs and clothes, etc., but do make sure you take the basics with you: glasses, contacts, medicines, travel sized deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, clean underwear, socks, bathing suit, pair of flip flops. Consider your destination and think about what you know you would be able to find if necessary, and what might be a challenge. When we were stuck in Panama City for 18-hours, believe it or not, it was tricky to find a toothbrush, and this was not something I thought about bringing on board with me. And, worse case scenario, make sure you have a credit card with a decent amount available in case you do need to book a flight, a hotel room, buy a new wardrobe, etc. One that won’t eat into your current travel budget. I always travel with my AmExPlatinum- mostly for access into the lounges, but also because it gives me peace of mind to know that in an emergency I can use it. It pretty much stays tucked away in my “goes in the safe” bag and hardly ever comes out. Another option is to find a credit card company that offers a debit account where you can stash some emergency cash in case you don’t want to mess with credit cards. American Express has a Rewards Checking that offers a competitive APY and you can also earn points on your purchases. The only downfall with this option are the international fees accrued when using this card outside of the US.

Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best! Happy Travels!