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How to Manage Travel Nightmares, from Lost Luggage to Canceled Flights

These travel tips may help smooth over a rocky travel experience

by Alexander Deutsch

October 24, 2022

Illustration By Maria Hergueta

Airlines all over the world are still ironing out operations after a summer and early fall of travel nightmares including flight cancellations, staffing shortages, continuing Covid outbreaks and lost luggage. Given how full airplanes are, and how limited rebooking options can be when an entire plane of travelers is scrambling for a new flight, how can you reach an airline when something goes wrong?

Contact Executive Management

Few people realize that every member of the executive team of an airline has an email address publicly posted on the Internet. This is the ultimate way to reach out to a CEO whether you’re currently traveling, have completed your trip, and or are stuck in a luggage fiasco with missing bags. A quick message regarding your frustrating travel ordeal can go a long way toward making sure you are properly compensated by the airline and that your feelings are being heard. You will usually receive a response within two to three business days. And it doesn’t matter when your trip was or if there were multiple issues on the same flight. Executive management often isn’t aware of “behind the scenes” issues that occur daily. To search for employee emails, try Elliott Advocacy, a great website that has a full list of executive team members on every airline.

File a Complaint with the Department of Transportation

Another option is to file a complaint form with the Department of Transportation. DOT will officially open a case against the airline on your behalf. Every traveler who flies on an airline to, from or within the United States is eligible for this.

Contact a Customer Representative

When you are flying and need assistance, the time it takes to contact an airline customer representative determines how long it will be until your problem is solved. Even if you don’t have airline status or are not in premium, you can still speak with an agent quickly. Chat and text messages are the best way to reach someone. With increased travel demand and operational issues, all airlines are forcing passengers to message them. Wait times are usually five to 30 minutes rather than more than an hour if you try calling a phone line.

Elite status members of an airline’s frequent-flyer program have access to different numbers and can enjoy shorter wait times. However, when there is bad weather or other issues affecting an airline’s operations, even elites may be faced with a lengthy wait.

Contact the Airline on Social Media

Another good option is Twitter. The social media teams for many hotels and airlines are very responsive with customer service. Via tweet, message or chat, a traveler can do just about anything with a reservation, including canceling, changing, rebooking, asking questions and selecting seats.

Contact International Call Centers

International phone numbers and foreign-language lines for airlines can also be your friend, as often these call centers have an English option and you may be able to get in touch faster than using the traditional U.S. phone number. Even if the international number is toll-free, use Skype or Google Voice to avoid international charges.

Chat with the Airline

If your flight is delayed or canceled and you are at the airport, you don’t have to stand in line to talk to a representative. It might be faster to connect online via an airline’s website or message function. If you have club access, you can head there for help from experienced agents with potentially shorter wait lines.

Book a Backup Flight

If you want to be a savvy traveler, book a backup flight on a different airline. All airlines have relaxed their change and cancellation fees due to Covid, and if you book your travel with miles or points, the entire ticket is fully refundable if you cancel before the scheduled departure time. By booking a plan B early enough you can get cheap deals with different airlines on the same route. If you wait until the day of travel, most flights will be sold out and there might not be an option available. Happily, this “holding seats” concept is perfectly fine with the airlines. It might seem like an unusual step, but is better to take precautions to protect your travel plans.

Find Lost Luggage with Apple AirTags

Around the world there are many problems with checked luggage, and Apple AirTags offer an affordable and effective bag-tracking system. Priced at $29 for one or $99 for four, AirTags provide constant information about the location of luggage. Global airlines, especially in the United States, have added new technologies that enable a passenger to track a bag at various stages of its journey. However, when your baggage has been offloaded via the airline’s app and is nowhere to be seen in baggage claim, it’s time to open the Find My application for iPhone or Tracker Detect application for Android and actually locate your missing bag.

Currently, luggage is being offloaded from airplanes and not moved to baggage claim in a timely manner. Many travelers either have a connecting flight or arrive at their destination without knowing what has happened to their luggage. The airline application may tell travelers that their luggage is at baggage claim when this isn’t the case. Travelers need to be aware of the actual location of the luggage and potentially show agents where it is, so that the representative can figure out why the bag is still at the plane rather than in the terminal. Usually, the contractor working the flights is unaware that the luggage needs to go from one end of the airport to the other in a very timely manner. As a result, many passengers have to leave the airport without it, causing further issues down the line. Knowing where your bags are the entire time might save your next trip.