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Making Lemonade: Lessons Learned from a Bad Trip

Making Lemonade: Lessons Learned from a Bad Trip

Mar 16th, 2005, 03:47 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2004
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Making Lemonade: Lessons Learned from a Bad Trip

In an attempt to make lemonade from the sackful of lemons Virgin Atlantic gave us on our recent non-trip, (http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34582645 ) we've compiled a list of pointers we want to remember for the next time, in case things go wrong. Maybe other Fodorites have their own items to add to this list.

1. Always bring a carry-on with essentials for 48 hours.
We always do this in the event the airline loses our checked bag en route so that we have at least a change of clothes, toiletries, medicines, etc. We didn't expect to need our carry-ons for an overnight stay in the airport, after our bags were checked, but we were sure glad we had them. By the way, the airline we were supposed to fly (Virgin) has a carry-on weight limit of 11 pounds, so I don't think there was any way we could have avoided checked luggage.

A few things I was glad I had in the carry-on that I might not have brought:
Wool socks -- it was COLD in the airport overnight
A large cashmere scarf, which packed small but was big enough to double as a small blanket.
Hat or other head covering -- you lose a lot of heat through your head.
Healthy snack food (should have had even more!). I always pack some dried fruit and nuts. I wish I'd brought a little cheese and bread as well, since the food offerings in the airport were very limited.

2. Bring a fully charged cell phone for the country you are leaving, even if you won't be able to use it where you're going. And keep the charger handy!
We did have a US cell phone but had packed the charger in a checked bag, figuring we wouldn't be making enough calls to use it before we could get to London and recharge it. Wrong: We were on hold so long trying to reach the airline for rescheduling info that the battery was about to run out.

3. Find out ahead of time what your passenger rights are. Bring a copy of pertinent regulations with you.
The European Union has some pretty stringent laws about what airlines have to do in case of delay or cancellation. Unfortunately, we didn't have that information until it was too late to do us any good. You can't demand your rights if you don't know what they are! This information is available online; search for EU regulation EC 261/2004.

4. An iPod is a godsend.
It was almost impossible to sleep in the airport because all night long, every 10 minutes or so you'd be jerked awake by a canned security announcement. My favorite one was "K-9s are on patrol. Be sure your pets are caged." We were told there was no way to shut those off.

The only way I got any sleep was to plug in the iPod phones and turn the music up loud enough to block out most of the announcements. We had replaced our standard-issue iPod earphones with some that are much more comfortable and have noise-cancelling qualities, so they worked pretty well to block out surrounding noises.

5. If you have to leave a plane after boarding, grab anything in the way of goodies they've handed out and take it with you.
If I'd been smart enough to take the airline pillow, blanket, and goodie bag of stuff like earplugs and eyeshade, I'd have been a lot more comfortable. Of course, it didn't occur to me then that we'd be sleeping rough in the airport, but if this ever happens again, I'm taking everything I can lay my hands on to be prepared, just in case. ....

6. Don't believe anything the airline tells you if it's not verifiably to your advantage.
For example: Virgin told us there weren't any hotel rooms to be had, and discouraged us from looking on our own. Actually some people did find rooms late at night. It's my understanding that the airline has to reimburse them for that cost, so of course Virgin didn't want too much of that going on.

And watch out for an airline proactively switching you to another flight. Virgin did that to people claiming it would give them an earlier arrival time, when they must have known the flight they were being switched to wasn't actually going to take off.

... to be continued ....
nonnafelice is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 03:54 PM
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Lessons learned, continued:

7. As a general rule, try to book on an airline that has some in-depth presence at the airport.
Virgin has only one flight a day from Logan, and as far as we could determine, no management on the ground there. When things went wrong, there were no back-up resources, and apparently no personnel available to staff the desk. If we'd been on British Air, which has 2 or 3 flights a day to London, there would have been more choices available, and probably more people to assist us.

8. Trip insurance can be a very good investment.
We had a package deal (air and hotel prepaid as one sum). Maybe we'd have been able to recover our cost without the insurance since the cancellation wasn't our fault, but I suspect it would be a lot more hassle, especially since Virgin refused to declare the more-than-2-day-delayed flight cancelled. Also, we should now be able to get back the money we're out for theatre tickets, prepaid museum admissions, etc. I hope the trip insurance actually does prove its value -- if not, I'll be letting everyone know!

9. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, try to get written documentation to that effect from the airline before you leave the airport.
Never having filed a trip insurance claim before, we didn't know what we needed. When we got the claim form, we found that we needed written proof from the airline that the flight was delayed or cancelled. We've called the airline to get that, but it will delay filing of the claim. We also neglected to get receipts from the van driver who took us to and from the airport, and that, too, should be recoverable for a non-trip.

10. A laptop was a useful thing to have.
When we finally did get to a hotel room, we were able to send some emails regarding the schedule change. Since most hotels now have Internet service, this was much easier and cheaper than trying to make a bunch of phone calls. It also let us download the prior day's news story about the airport closure and save it for later printing to document our insurance claim.

11. The most important thing to bring -- a sense of humor, and if at all possible, someone to laugh with!
This sure helped save our sanity!
nonnafelice is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 04:10 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,626
How about:

12. Do a little research on alternatives (if your flight is terribly delayed or cancelled) before you get to the airport, and write down the details (with contact numbers). For example, if you're on Virgin leaving at 6 pm, find out which airlines fly to the same place (direct or via connections), leaving within the subsequent 24 hour period, take down the flight details and the telephone numbers. The more important it is that you get to your destination in a timely way (e.g. business meeting, cruise ship leaving, prepaid hotel room, your daughter's wedding), the more important it is to have this information. Make sure you've got the phone number for your airline (and your travel agent, if you used one).

13. Keep a list of toll-free numbers for the major hotel chains handy, so that you can call around to look for beds near the airport.

14. Check out sleepinginairports.com for advice on the most comfortable places in airports around the world - and for entertainment value. While you're on the internet (using your laptop, at the airport), check out flyertalk.com (especially the forums for the airline you're flying on). There is likely to be savvy frequent flyer with good advice and current news sending messages from the airport. Check it for a day or two before you fly, because you might learn about looming problems (e.g. snowed in airports, strikes in your destination, etc.)

15. Have the phone number of the hotel (or other place you're staying) on arrival, so that you can call to cancel your booking (or tell your daughter that you're going to miss her wedding).

16. Wear comfortable clothes (rather obvious, but some people forget this on occasion).

17. Be friendly and encouraging to any airline staff you find, without being a pushover. Rudeness is more likely to result in you getting dropped to the bottom of the line if favours are being handed out. But be persistent (while openly acknowledging the difficult situation that staff appear to be in); escalate requests if you're not getting the answer you need.

18. Keep in mind that airlines usually want to keep their frequent flyers happy. If you travel fairly often, stick with one or a few airlines - you're more likely to get better service if you have elite status (even if your seat is in the back of the plane).

19. A really big book with tiny type (and then swap it with someone else when you're finished) and a pack of cards help the time pass.

20. Listerine breath strips - your travelling companions will thank you.
Kate_W is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 06:22 PM
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Great additions, Kate. Unfortunately for us, your #12 (have a list of alternate flights) wouldn't have helped in our specific situation, since Virgin held our bags hostage for over 24 hours. But. as you say, if you're going someplace you're desperate to get to, you'd probably choose to get yourselves there ASAP and worry about finding clothes after you arrived.
nonnafelice is offline  
Mar 19th, 2005, 04:04 PM
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By the way, I wanted to thank Kate for that pointer to sleepinginairports.com. Great site -- and I was especially interested by the ratings, where Logan ranked second on the "Worst airport to sleep in" list.

Putting aside the airport in New Guinea where "one of our contributors witnessed 7 being killed in a gang shoot-out," the Worst Airport award went to "the entire country of India who only has one airport rated "good", but only because it was a better alternative to actually sleeping in one of their hotels. Unacceptable seating, foul odours, filth, fleas, safety, and general hassles have resulted in India's 8 year reign of the Worst Airport(s) Title."

So be warned, anyone passing through Logan Airport in Boston: do your best to avoid ever spending the night there!
nonnafelice is offline  
Mar 19th, 2005, 04:17 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 835
This is one great thread! Thanks for posting it. Sorry about your non-trip.
crepes_a_go_go is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:23 AM
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Posts: 74,388
Very helpful, nonna
ira is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 05:34 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 9,445
Thanks for sharing Nonna. This is stuff you know you should know, but don't bother to research.

So sorry for your trip from h***. We've all had at least one in our lifetime.

Buon viaggio!
Dayle is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 03:26 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 512
Wow, this definitely contains a lot of great tips of things I would never think of. Thanks so much for them. It definitely sounds like you made the most of what happened and will be extra prepared in the future.
dsm22 is offline  
Mar 20th, 2005, 03:37 PM
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What a sad tale but what a great trooper.
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