I’ve been flying—nationally and internationally since I was 17—so for about 14 years—and I’d never missed a single flight or connection. Ever. That is until last week on my trip home to Iowa.
Now some of you may have missed flights before—and if you’re anything like me you probably felt your heart drop into your stomach; the blood draining from your face as you realized you were stranded at an airport away from home and not yet at your destination. But for those of you that haven’t, I’m hoping my experience, and what I learned from it, can help you avoid missing flights in the future. Or, at the very least, help you have a better idea of what to expect if you do miss a flight.
- Beware of Time Zones—They’ll Get’cha!
I’ve flown across time zones before. This is no new thing for me. If you’ve traveled across even a couple states on a plane, chances are you’ve crossed a few time zones yourself. I ‘get’ time zones. I understand the need to make sure my watch is changed to match the new time zone. This is “old hat” for me. But sometimes, even experienced travelers can get tripped up by a simple issue like time differences. On this last trip, which I now think of as ‘my nightmare trip’, I learned the importance of double and triple-checking my electronic devices to make sure that they are working correctly.
One little box inside my “date and time” settings on my smartphone had, at some point, been switched off. I turned my phone off for my flight from San Diego to Phoenix and when I turned it back on in Phoenix I incorrectly believed that it had automatically changed the time to match the new time zone. Like it had always done. There were no clocks on display in Phoenix like there are at some airports, and since I don’t even own a watch, I was depending on my smart phone to be able to keep track of the time.
My flight from San Diego was probably one of the worst flights of my life despite it’s very short duration. We endured violent turbulence that at one point lifted everyone seven inches off their seat. Moments after lift off, a man in the row right behind me began to get horribly ill due to a severe anxiety attack, leading to an emergency landing and being boarded by paramedics, as well as a plethora of other smaller issues. Everything combined meant I was more than a little frazzled and ready to sit and relax by the time I landed in Phoenix. I made it to the correct terminal and sat at a café within site of the sign for my gate and proceeded to kill time.
Forty minutes before boarding I meandered down to my gate, only to find it nearly abandoned with nothing on the television screen behind the check-in desk. Looking up at a “departures” screen a few feet away I saw the following message: “Des Moines; 5:15PM departure; Status: Departed.” I looked at my phone, looked at the screen again, looked at the empty seating area, back at my phone and finally back at the screen. “It must be a computer glitch,” I thought, looking at my phone a third time where the time of “4:30PM” blinked back at me. I waved down an airport employee and asked him what was going on.
“Is something wrong with the computers,” I asked. “It says the flight to Des Moines left already, but it’s not supposed to leave until 5:15 and it’s only 4:30.”
He looked at me like I was wrong in the head and said, “Well, it’s left already because it’s actually 5:30 right now.”
My heart dropped, my stomach rolled over and denial and panic went to war in my chest. “Are you serious? It’s 5:30? What do I do? Where should I go if I’ve missed my flight?”
“Go to the customer service desk at the end of the hall.”
So, because ONE setting was off inside my phone, there were no visible clocks in the airport, and the announcements in the airport were so quiet I heard none, I missed my flight home by a miserable fifteen minutes—all within site of the gate sign that was visible from the hallway. To say I felt less than smart in that moment would be a severe understatement.
My lessons learned: Just because your phone has ALWAYS worked when crossing time zones before don’t make assumptions! Check! Make sure it’s right. Something as simple as what happened to me—your phone not changing with a changed time zone—could cost you hundreds of dollars, a missed flight, and all the stress that accompanies the situation—not to mention the time lost!
- If you missed your flight: Don’t panic!
Okay, now, I get it. Believe me, I do. I panicked; I totally panicked. When I realized I had missed my flight and gotten myself stranded I felt physically ill (The joys of having what I like to call a “stress stomach.” When I get stressed I get nauseated—never fun.).
I was supposed to arrive in Des Moines at 9PM on Monday night, have a day at home with my family, and then fly out at 5AM on Wednesday morning from Des Moines to the Dominican Republic where I was going on a trip with my uncle to an all-expenses paid resort. Missing my connection didn’t mean I’d just miss a day of a weeklong holiday. It meant I could miss my connection to the Caribbean and miss a pre-paid trip. I didn’t have the time to miss my flight, but that didn’t change the fact that I had. And so, my first reaction, after denial fell away, was gut-wrenching panic and hopelessness.
I’d never missed a flight before so I was clueless. I had no idea what to do or what was going to happen. Nothing. So if your first instinct is to panic, I completely understand, but try to remain calm. You have several options—just breathe—and go find the customer service desk for your airline. Take a deep breath and just take it all one-step at a time—it will help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
I asked a lot of questions since I was completely ignorant about the whole process. I asked about my options, the employee’s suggestions, how much it would cost to get a ticket to a secondary destination, what my chances were flying “standby” the next day, what would happen to my checked luggage, and how early I needed to come back the next day for standby. The more questions you ask, the more prepared you are to make your decisions. While I was there, another girl who’d missed the same flight made the decision to purchase a replacement ticket to Omaha (for a whopping $700!) where she planned to rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Des Moines. I knew I couldn’t afford that so it wasn’t even an option for me. Since it was “my fault” I’d missed my flight my options were to a) stay in a hotel and fly standby on Tuesday and hope that I made it on one of the two flights that American Airlines had going from Phoenix to Des Moines, or b) buy a very expensive ticket to another destination. Once I had all the information, I chose option “a”, which was less than comforting because there was no guarantee I’d even get a seat on the two flights on Tuesday.
However, once I got to the hotel I spoke with Chief Global Gal Brenda who has a lot more experience than I do with all the snafus that can strike when you’re traveling. Thankfully she was able to tell me that I had a few more options than the lady from my airline mentioned: c) get a new one-way ticket on Kayak through a different airline (we found a couple between $130-$250—much better than a $700 ticket to the wrong airport!) or d) look at pricing on tickets from Phoenix to the Dominican in case I couldn’t make it to Des Moines for my Wednesday morning flight. I went ahead and got the ticket that took me to Des Moines by noon on Tuesday so that I had a guaranteed flight home that would get me there in plenty of time—rather than hope that I would be able to fly on standby.
In my situation, I didn’t have the time or luxury to stake my luck on a “maybe” so it made more sense for me to purchase a new ticket. After hearing about the $700 ticket to Omaha though, I had assumed that I didn’t have that option. Brenda reminded me about the importance of (once again) not making assumptions and instead, checking. The lady working for the one airline was, of course, not going to suggest that I look at another airline or try to book a new ticket through a discount website, but I actually had that option and it was more within my budget than the one the other lady from Iowa purchased. So, remember to question, double-check, and consider options A, B, C, and even D!
- Getting a hotel to spend the night at was a LOT less painful than I anticipated.
If you’ve ever tried to book a room at a hotel in a good-sized city, last minute, you may understand why I was anticipating the potential of a costly room. Depending on availability, location, and events currently taking place in the city, the prices for rooms can really fluctuate so, I was bracing myself for an expensive room—even with the room voucher the airline gave me. I’m happy to say that I was wrong.
Calling the number on the voucher, and working with Travelliance, I was able to find and book a room at a Sleep Inn right next to the airport that had free WiFi, a continental breakfast, and most importantly 24-hour shuttle services to and from the airport— all for only $65.
In closing, I learned a lot through this experience and, though I think I’ll be more paranoid for a while now when flying, that won’t really hurt me. When it comes to travel, even the most experienced travelers still have things they can learn. While I’m “traveled,” I wouldn’t consider myself highly experienced like some travelers—like the Chief Global Gal, for instance. I already knew I still have a lot more to learn so I’m going to look at this as a great learning experience. I’m grateful it turned out as well as it did, and I’m happy for everything I learned.
So for you travelers out there—especially beginning travelers—these are my final recommendations:
1. Check your electronics—make sure the time you’re seeing on your gadgets (whether it be your watch or phone or tablet) is correct.
2. When booking your ticket, just to be safe, try to select flights that give you at least one and a half to two hours between flights (even more than that if you have to go through immigrations and security again because it’s your “port of entry” upon returning to your home country—those processes take TIME so make sure you have at least three hours for those connections). I know that sitting around, waiting, can be a drag. We all want to get where we’re headed as fast as possible, but following this “rule of thumb” has helped me avoid missing my connections on a number of occasions.
Delays happen—poor weather conditions, medical emergencies; technical issues. Giving yourself a “cushion” of time to get off your plane and get across the airport to your next gate can save you the headache, stress, and the cost of missing your connection. A number of times I’ve found myself on a plane experiencing a delay and, while other passengers are panicking about not making their connection, I’ve been able to relax knowing that I’d still have enough time to make mine. It’s taught me not to get impatient, and just stick with the tickets that offer a bit more time in-between flights.
3. If you miss your flight, try not to panic. Ask questions. Get all the info you can so you can make an informed decision. Don’t just accept whatever the employee of the airline is telling you—take the information they provide with a grain of salt. No, I’m not saying that they’ll lie to you or that you can’t trust them, but know that as an employee of an airline they may fail to mention options beyond purchasing tickets from, or using, their airline. Remember to check online for other options with other airlines. Once you’ve exhausted all possibilities and know what all of your options are, then you can make a decision that best fits your time frame, your budget, and your preferences. Being informed means you can be more “in control” of a situation that’s gotten out of your control.
I hope this has helped, and as one traveler to another, I sincerely hope you don’t ever miss a flight, but if you do, I hope these tips and recommendations help you handle it with a lot more ease and a lot less stress than I managed! Happy travels!
Written by “Go-To Global Gal” Alyce of the Global Gals Team