Recent posts noted that the carefully laid the plans for my trip to Kenya and Tanzania in May 2022 were disrupted by Covid and an hours-long flight delay that missed my connection to a transatlantic flight. I was stranded overnight in Detroit, Michigan. The only good thing about being stranded overnight is there is a lot of time to consider travel options. In this case, there were a ton of them to sort through and consider.

When an airline causes a missed connection, it often presents the traveler with one or maybe two options. Take it or leave it. For domestic travel, usually just waiting a few hours and getting on the next flight works. International travel is more complicated.

In this case the delayed Delta Air Lines flight from Dallas (DFW) to Detroit (DTW) arrived after 21:00 (9pm) local time. That late at night there were no more flights on Delta or Air France from the U.S. to Europe to connect to Nairobi, Kenya.

Upon landing in Detroit, I was presented with several options on the Delta app for flights the next day. Instead of just accepting one of those, I followed a different routine.

5 Things I Do When Rebooking

When rebooking air travel I suggest the following:

  1. Do the homework.
  2. Know the routing that works best for your circumstances.
  3. Base your request on what I call the “law and the equities.”
  4. Ask for compensation.
  5. If you don’t like the response, HUCB (Hang Up Call Back).

First, have a good idea of what options are possible. Search for options on a laptop or computer through airline websites or services like Expedia, Google Flights or ITA Matrix will show many more possibilities than an airline shows on its app or website.

Second, figure out the options that work best for you in terms of travel and arrival times, type of aircraft, seating and class of service availability, and amount of frequent flyer credit earned. Write down two or three that work best.

Third, when asking for a flight change, base your request on the law (terms and conditions of the ticket and frequent flyer program) and the equities (basic fairness). If the requested change is clearly within the program and ticket terms and conditions, it should be a slam dunk. Still, irrespective of program rules, it never hurts to let the rep know why you are deserving of special consideration to compel the airline to do the right thing. Ask respectfully. Avoid a DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am) attitude.

I prefer to do this in person when possible. Customer service reps in airline lounge are generally more knowledgeable than those manning the general phone lines and seem to have greater knowledge and willingness to help even if it requires bending the rules. If you are stranded in an airport for a few hours, buying access to the airline’s lounge (if there is one and they sell access) can be more than worth the entry fee.

Alternatively, stranded passengers should consider speaking with an agent in an airport rebooking center. Often, though, during major travel disruptions rebooking centers are swamped, and are more likely to provide solutions that benefit the airline not the personal circumstances of customers.

If face-to-face interaction is not possible, I’ll call. Having access to a line with shorter wait times helps. To circumvent call wait times, many airlines also offer assistance through Twitter. Twitter customer service teams are usually responsive and staffed with knowledgeable reps who try to help.

Technically, the airline is only obligated to make a new booking for the portion of travel affected by its delay. Since my flights was delayed by a day, I was also able to extend the return portion of the trip and change the routing to one I liked more than the original flights.

Fourth, ask for compensation. For an overnight delay that the airline is responsible for, passengers should be given a free hotel room and one or more food vouchers for use at the airport. If the airline blames the weather for the flight delay, it has no obligation to provide any compensation.

Once I had to sleep in the terminal at Narita Airport when China Eastern Airlines cancelled a flight from Tokyo to Shanghai because of a typhoon. Narita is a tough airport to get stuck at because there are very few hotels in the area.

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A $15 food voucher was all the help China Eastern provided.

If the airline is at fault, I usually get miles and/or a flight credit added to my account in addition to lodging and food vouchers. In this case, a rep on the Diamond line promised to (and actually did) add a $200 flight credit. Whatever the rep offers, ask for a bit more. The response might be positive.

Last but not least, if the rep won’t cooperate, politely HUCB or ask for a supervisor. HUCB (hang up, call back) is one of the best pieces of advice ever. Speaking to a different person actually does get a more favorable outcome at times and supervisors have more authority to bend the rules than front-line customer service reps. It is an extension of the trick we learned as kids: If dad says no, ask mom and vice versa.๐Ÿ˜Š

My Reroute

After getting to the Fairfield Inn at Detroit Airport, I got on the laptop and found flights that best served my purposes. Because I was traveling on a paid business class fare and had status with Delta, the rep I talked with was willing to make any changes I wanted without argument.

This is the original routing on the Delta ticket. There were six flights on three airlines covering 18,084m (29,103km) plus the flight from DTW to CDG featured Air France’s new A350-900 with its latest business class seat.

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To get the same Air France flight, I’d have to spend 24 hours in Detroit. The route that worked best for me was slightly less direct.

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The great circle mileage on this route was slightly longer 21,225m (34,159km) and involved a noon flight from Detroit to Atlanta so I wouldn’t sit around all day in DTW. There were other significant advantages that will be discussed in the flight reviews.

Final Thought

Sometimes flight delays, while frustrating, can work to a traveler’s advantage. But a passenger must be proactive in finding alternatives, know the rules, make a cogent appeal to the airline, and ask for compensation. And don’t forget, HUCB. It works more often than you might imagine.

Thanks for reading! The next post about this trip covers the flight from Detroit to Atlanta and the weird situation where I was the only one who knew why the jet bridge was stuck and we couldn’t get off the plane.