How to Take Control: Don’t Be a Victim Of Your Airline.

Spirit Airlines cancelled flights at LAX stranding passengers and naturally there’s someone onboard that is uniquely sympathetic, thanks to Spirit they can’t make it to a funeral. Spirit blames weather, and weather has been an issue, but other airline operations fared better.

Passengers are outraged after they showed up to the airport, only to find out Spirit Airlines canceled their flights without any explanation.

Several passengers spent the night at the airport.

The airline has canceled multiple flights out of LAX since Monday, blaming it on bad weather.

…Annie Chandler of Los Angeles says she will likely miss her grandmother’s funeral due to the delay.

And that’s why some simple principles are worth keeping in mind, both about choosing your carrier and about taking ownership for solving your own problems when operational challenges strike.

  1. It’s better to fly an airline that will put you on another carrier than one that won’t.

  2. It’s better to fly an airline that has plenty of service than one with limited flights.

  3. It’s better to have a stash of miles, also to have a small ‘travel emergency’ savings, so that you can deal with hiccups that happen along the way.

    Travel is more than just the cost of a plane ticket. Travel insurance is a pain since you may not have a claim approved and it’s taxing just to process – for small purchases I’ve never felt it makes sense.

    Instead you ‘self insure’, pay in a premium to yourself for each trip, and then use that fund to cover extra expenses (some of which you may get reimbursed for by the premium credit card used to pay for your ticket). Margins on travel insurance are huge, often 50%, because they’re profitable products to offer. Sell it to yourself instead.

There’s nothing better than flying between two hubs during irregular operations. There’s a way to get there. It may not be obvious to agents helping you – but there’s a way to get there.

    During ‘snowmageddon’ several years ago in DC (“Panic!”) air travel was disrupted for days. But a seat here or there would pop up. I was helping a dozen people get to a San Francisco work event. They really needed to be there. I was grabbing regional jet inventory from Dulles to Kansas City, creating a forced overnight, and then getting them to San Francisco in time for the event start the next day. The airline wouldn’t pay for hotel in Kansas City but Priceline worked well by the airport.

The most frustrating thing during rebooking is telephone hold times. Inventory is constantly changing. If you find seats available, call, and sit on hold the inventory may be gone by the time you’re helped. I realize it contributes to the hold times, but the individually rational thing to do (which only the airline can solve, not you) is to sit on the phone assuming you’ll need help and keep looking for space. Don’t wait until you find it.

You need to find your own options. On the fly, Expertflyer (pay service) is great for that on a mobile phone. Don’t rely on agents to come up with options, they certainly wouldn’t suggest a forced overnight in Kansas City that they couldn’t pay hotel on (nor would they find it, since the computer wasn’t going to suggest it). And they get so beaten down with nothing available and disappointing customers that they’re unlikely to work hard, assuming everything they try is a no-go.

Be nice. Chat up your agent. Get them on your side. Commiserate with them over how tough a situation they’re facing with so many unhappy people. They’ll want to help you if you’re nice. They’ll even want to spend more time working on your issues rather than moving on to the next mean customer (it really isn’t their fault.. most of the time). If you take out your frustration with the day’s circumstances on the person who you need to help you, they’re just going to want to get you out their way.

Look to everyone for help. Even in person there’s the idea of hang up, call back. You have the ticket counter, the phone, you may have the lounge, the customer service line, the gate. There are plenty of people who may be able to assist. Try them in succession until you get what you need.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Seriously!?? What a horribly offensive choice for a photo for this post. I’m not sure what it is but clearly this is real victim of something terrible and has nothing to do with miles and points. You should be ashamed of yourself of including such a photo on this blog. It’s crass, inconsiderate and completely inappropriate.

  2. That was my immediate reaction too. Whatever that is from, it is clearly someone who is genuinely suffering, not just inconvenience.

  3. First, the last time I checked, there certainly wasn’t a “Right not to ever be offended” by internet content or anything else for that matter, enshrined in the US Constitution – the internet is a bastion of offensive material, no one’s holding a gun to your heads to force you to read this, or anything else. Perhaps the offended commenters should go back to reading books… oh wait you all probably burned those… :-\

    Back on topic – Sadly, the woman who may miss a funeral probably isn’t a frequent traveler and probably would be at the mercy of the agent at the counter and not having a clue about EF, HUCA (after waiting on hold for 45 minutes?), using lounge agents, etc. Avoiding Spirit, Southwest and Frontier is the best option – those airlines do fill seats with cheap tickets – Caveat Emptor!

  4. A quick google image search shows that the picture is of a victim of the A-bomb being dropped on Hiroshima/Nagasaki. I didn’t read through to confirm which one.

    I’m totally bewildered why Gary would use this image. Having your flight cancelled and even missing a relative’s funeral doesn’t really compare to having your skin burned off by heat and radiation from an atomic bomb.

  5. @Kevin: People such as yourself often confuse the rights afforded us by the Constitution vs. when exercising said rights is in poor taste. The Constitution protects someone from being imprisoned/prosecuted for expressing himself. Gary can’t be imprisoned for posting an image like this in the same way those climbers in Malaysia WERE imprisoned for posting photos of themselves nude on a sacred mountain.

    We have every right to be offended and express it, and; beyond that, just be totally confused why a points/miles/aviation blog, which is is pretty mild in tone, would use such a graphic image.

  6. @Kevon – what is your point? nobody said we have a right to not be offended, just like everyone who expressed offense has a right to express it. This isn’t a question of rights being violated, it’s people expressing their opinion about the choice of picture.

  7. Unbelievably offensive to use a photo of someone suffering from the atomic bombings in Japan in World War II.

    I trust this photo will be removed?

  8. I agree completely that this was a poor image choice for the post.

    I grabbed it quickly from a free image site while on a plane with poor internet. Didn’t know what it was and did not look closely enough.

    Thanks all.

  9. Gary,

    Your bad choice of pictures is now forever in flipboard and google caches. Your excuse of not knowing what you selected does not even add up…anyone can tell this is a person suffering from something serious, no matter how small the thumbnail or how blurry.

    As a long time reader I am just disgusted. This is just the last straw in a recent decline in your credibility and quality of content.

    Yes, we don’t have to read if we don’t like it….but we all know you need us to read and click thru. So spend the time to make your posts useful and your headlines correct. This is after all your profession, business and brand. Without the readers you have nothing.


  10. This is a great article for 1999. There are these magical devices now called smartphones. One can now search and find how to get somewhere after a disruption. However, I am preaching to the choir here, we know this.

  11. @Mike I completely acknowledge the failure in using that photo. As I said, I was grabbing a photo off a free site and didn’t look closely, it was a person that came up under victim and with poor internet I didn’t stop to look more closely at it. That was a mistake, born out of a sense of urgency (get something up while the internet worked and before we descended below 10,000 feet). That strategy did not work well for me, and it would have been better to wait. But I’ve historically not had images associated with posts in this way, so it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking seriously about. My poor choice of image here causes me to think differently about them.

    You’re clearly predisposed not to like a lot of things about my blog, and that’s your choice, I’ll go on doing what I do the best I can – no doubt with occasional slip up.


  12. @SH these things update in different ways and different timeframes across different external services that I don’t control

  13. Gary,

    So I see you replaced the image of a dying boy in WW2 with a chalk outline from a crime scene.

  14. People are too sensitive. Just sayin’.

    More on point…good advice, Gary. Hub to hub is the easiest. Even with a smartphone, a person may not think of the potential city pair combinations. Ultimately they proudly need the help of the airline agent, in person or on the phone, to successfully rebook a reroute. A few years ago, weather at DFW almost destroyed my friends plans to be at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. After he got little sympathy with the airline, he called me. I got online and looked at a few city pair combinations to get him from Miami to DFW and onto Vancouver. He was willing to do anything so we found a solution: Drive that night to Fort Myers then fly to DFW and onto Vancouver. Seats were available on those flights so he called the airline and after a wait finally got through and they confirmed him. He showed up in Vancouver with just a couple hours to spare. But his dream of being at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies came true.

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