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Coping With Airline Travel Foul-Ups

Posted by Peter Post  February 4, 2014 07:00 AM

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My daughter popped her head into my office a few minutes ago. (Yes, she works at The Emily Post Institute, too, along with my other daughter and one of my nephews.) She had been scheduled to fly from Burlington, Vermont to New York City later in the afternoon.

“I just learned my flight has been delayed from 6:30PM until 8:00PM,” she announced. Now, the average person might just think to herself, “Now I can delay going to the airport for an extra hour and a half.” But my daughter said something that demonstrated a keen grasp of having learned how to handle today’s vagaries of flying, especially in the lousy weather we’ve experienced in the past month. “I think I’ll still go to the airport early. You never know when they might end up sending the plane early even though they’ve announced the new time.”

She wasn’t frustrated or annoyed. Instead, she’s learned to take the downs of flying in stride, and not to get stressed. When flying plans do go south, here’s some advice to make the situation as palatable as possible:

  1. Remain calm. When you speak to the customer service agent, be as friendly and helpful as you can. The old adage really works here: “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
  2. Anticipate. Even though she may have to wait that extra hour and a half at the airport, my daughter will be there and be ready for any unexpected earlier departure. What a bummer to arrive an hour and a half later and find out the flight had ended up departing earlier after all.
  3. Keep moving. Do whatever you can to fly out of a troubled area. I was in Washington’s Dulles airport one evening with thunderstorms and horrendous weather screwing up flights all over the place. I was trying to get back to Burlington and my plane kept getting delayed. I noticed there was a flight boarding passengers for Boston. So I ran to that gate and arrived just as they were finishing up. “Can you put me on this flight?” I asked, showing the agent my ticket to Burlington. There were three seats still available, and she asked if I had checked luggage. (I hadn’t). She made a few keystrokes and told me to get on the plane. I called my travel agent from my seat (great use of a smartphone) and asked her to book me a rental car from Boston. I was able to drive home that night. Later, I found out people had been delayed in Washington for as much as two days because of the weather.
  4. Accept the inevitable. The unfortunate reality is if you’re going to fly, things are going to go wrong a certain amount of the time. Weather is going to cause you to miss a flight. Equipment problems are going to delay you. A pilot is going to be delayed getting to your flight. Getting worked up and stressed out won’t change anything, and if you do take it out on customer service agents, it’s not likely going to help you resolve your situation. Rather, it could just lose you that cooperative edge, so necessary when you need it most.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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