12 Things To Do When Your Flight's Canceled or Delayed

iStock.com/vm
iStock.com/vm

Delayed flights are a bummer. After all, the reason you came to the airport is because you wanted to reach your destination faster. But flight delays are unpredictable. Maybe the weather became surprisingly unpleasant, or a mechanical issue arose, or, as in the case of China’s Hangzhou Ziaoshan International Airport in July 2010, a UFO was discovered hovering near the airfield. Here’s what you should do if you’re stranded because of a flight delay or, heaven forbid, a canceled flight.

1. Understand your rights as a passenger if your flight is delayed ...

Fun fact: Legally, you have very few rights. In the United States, at least, few regulations require airlines to provide you with any form of compensation after a delayed flight. Many airlines, however, have what’s called a Contract of Carriage, which describes what you’re entitled to: Potential food vouchers, discounts, refunds, or a hotel stay in the event of a flight delay when the airline is at fault. So read those terms and conditions when you book!

2. ... Especially if you’re flying in Europe.

If you’re flying in Europe—or flying aboard a European airline—passengers have more rights. According to Regulation EC 261/2004, if your flight reaches its destination more than three hours late (or if you were denied boarding because of overbooking) you may have a right to be compensated up to €600, or about $700.

3. If a flight delay or cancellation caused you a big financial loss, you could be compensated for it.

We’ll let the gurus at the great website Airfare Watchdog explain:

“[I]f you can provide evidence of financial loss caused by a delay on an international flight, and prove that the airline could have prevented it by taking 'reasonable measures,' then you may be able to claim further compensation under the Montreal Convention, a treaty that covers most international travel. Under its Article 22, it stipulates a maximum payout of 4150 SDRs (currently $5870).”

(By the way, an SDR, or "Special Drawing Right," is an international unit based on a basket of five currencies: the U.S. dollar, the pound sterling, the Euro, the Japanese yen, and the Chinese renminbi. It's the main unit used by the International Monetary Fund.)

4. Check your connecting flight status immediately.

In most cases, the airline will put you on the next available flight to your destination—but it may not alert you to that fact. Call or check customer service immediately to get an update on your status. In some instances, the airline might have automatically rebooked you on a completely different route to your destination. (In the case of one Mental Floss editor, a delayed flight from Chicago to New York transformed into a multi-segment marathon from Chicago to Grand Rapids to Dallas to New York.)

5. Make some calls as soon as your flight is delayed or canceled.

If you rented a car, let the agency at your destination know about your delayed flight status. If you think the flight delay might last into the night (or will become a canceled flight at some point) and the airline doesn't seem to be budging on handing out those hotel perks, it may also be worth booking a hotel yourself just in case. Most hotels don’t charge until you check in, so—pending the accommodation’s cancellation policy—there might be nothing to lose if the airline manages to pull through.

6. Do some research on chronically delayed flights.

Now that you have some extra time on your hands, why not check up on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Travel Consumer Report? It supplies a monthly rundown of the cause of every flight delay experienced by each carrier. Similarly, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics maintains a list tracking the causes of delays as well as list of “chronically delayed flights.” It can’t save you this time, but it might help you pick a better flight next time.

7. Wait before you begin making complaints ...

If your flight hasn’t been delayed for at least three hours, you really shouldn’t expect any vouchers or sympathy. At that point, complaining about a delay is a waste of everybody’s time. If you bought travel insurance, your policy will likely kick in about four hours after the delay. Depending on the policy you purchased and the provider, you should call the insurance company when hour four hits to see what you may be entitled to.

8. ... But try not to fall asleep.

In some cases, an airline may tell passengers that the flight delay will last three hours, only to suddenly announce over the P.A. system that they’ll be boarding soon. A flight can be “undelayed” and you should be prepared if that happens. So if you plan on taking a nap, find a buddy to wake you up just in case. (In a similar vein: If a flight is delayed before you reach the airport, you cannot arrive late to check in. You need to show up as if the plane were leaving on time.)

9. Read the fine print on your credit card—it might cover flight delays.

Many credit cards come with travel protection benefits in the event of a delay; some will even reimburse you if your flight is delayed a certain amount of time (if you booked your ticket with that card). So get familiar with your credit card perks and see if you’re eligible.

10. Take a hike.

Airports are great places to go people watching and, of course, plane-spotting. They’re also not a bad place to exercise. (And, let’s admit it—you might need to blow off some steam.) Multiple airports now have gyms and free yoga studios. Phoenix Sky Harbor boasts a “Walk The Sky Harbor Fitness Trail” [PDF].

11. Check the attractions at the airport.

During the winter, Denver International has an outdoor ice-skating rink that’s free to use (even skate rentals are free). Seattle-Tacoma International displays more than 60 works of art and offers a self-guided walking tour. At Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, the world-renowned Rijksmuseum has set up exhibits showing Dutch masterpieces. And at Singapore’s Changi International Airport, Terminal 3 boasts a four-story slide.

12. Cuddle an animal.

You’re stressed. You’re anxious. You’re angry. But what if we told you that at San Francisco International Airport there’s a therapy pig named Lilou who struts around (in costume!) and would love to cuddle with you? Or what if we told you that LAX has a program called PUP—for the “Pets Unstressing Program”—that provides free snuggles from therapy dogs? See, getting stranded in an airport thanks to a delayed flight isn’t so bad.

What Do the Numbers and Letters on a Boarding Pass Mean?

iStock.com/Laurence Dutton
iStock.com/Laurence Dutton

Picture this: You're about to embark on a vacation or business trip, and you have to fly to reach your destination. You get to the airport, make it through the security checkpoint, and breathe a sigh of relief. What do you do next? After putting your shoes back on, you'll probably look at your boarding pass to double-check your gate number and boarding time. You might scan the information screen for your flight number to see if your plane will arrive on schedule, and at some point before boarding, you'll also probably check your zone and seat numbers.

Aside from these key nuggets of information, the other letters and numbers on your boarding pass might seem like gobbledygook. If you find this layout confusing, you're not the only one. Designer and creative director Tyler Thompson once commented that it was almost as if "someone put on a blindfold, drank a fifth of whiskey, spun around 100 times, got kicked in the face by a mule … and then just started puking numbers and letters onto the boarding pass at random."

Of course, these seemingly secret codes aren't exactly secret, and they aren't random either. So let's break it down, starting with the six-character code you'll see somewhere on your boarding pass. This is your Passenger Name Reference (or PNR for short). On some boarding passes—like the one shown below—it may be referred to as a record locator or reservation code.

A boarding pass
Piergiuliano Chesi, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

These alphanumeric codes are randomly generated, but they're also unique to your personal travel itinerary. They give airlines access to key information about your contact information and reservation—even your meal preferences. This is why it's ill-advised to post a photo of your boarding pass to social media while waiting at your airport gate. A hacker could theoretically use that PNR to access your account, and from there they could claim your frequent flier miles, change your flight details, or cancel your trip altogether.

You might also see a random standalone letter on your boarding pass. This references your booking class. "A" and "F," for instance, are typically used for first-class seats. The letter "Y" generally stands for economy class, while "Q" is an economy ticket purchased at a discounted rate. If you see a "B" you might be in luck—it means you could be eligible for a seat upgrade.

There might be other letters, too. "S/O," which is short for stopover, means you have a layover that lasts longer than four hours in the U.S. or more than 24 hours in another country. Likewise, "STPC" means "stopover paid by carrier," so you'll likely be put up in a hotel free of charge. Score!

One code you probably don’t want to see is "SSSS," which means your chances of getting stopped by TSA agents for a "Secondary Security Screening Selection" are high. For whatever reason, you've been identified as a higher security risk. This could be because you've booked last-minute or international one-way flights, or perhaps you've traveled to a "high-risk country." It could also be completely random.

Still confused? For a visual of what that all these codes look like on a boarding pass, check out this helpful infographic published by Lifehacker.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Taco Bell is Opening a Taco-Themed Hotel in Palm Springs This Summer

Taco Bell Corp.
Taco Bell Corp.

For some, having a Taco Bell and its cheese-filled menu within driving distance is enough. For others, only a Taco Bell destination vacation will do. This August, the popular fast food chain is going to convert an existing Palm Springs, California, hotel into a burrito-filled Taco Bell getaway for a limited time.

The Bell Hotel will have all the usual amenities—rooms, food, gifts, and a salon—operating with a taco-themed cosmetic facelift. The nail salon, for example, will feature Taco Bell-inspired nail art. (Though we're not entirely sure what that consists of—possibly nails that resemble hot sauce packets.) The gift shop will feature Taco Bell apparel. Guests can also enjoy the standard variety of Taco Bell menu items. According to Thrillist, some new additions to their line-up are expected to be unveiled.

The as-yet-undisclosed hotel in Palm Springs will be operating as a Taco Bell partner for five nights total. As with pop-up stores and other publicity campaigns, the expectation is that guests will share their bizarre Taco Bell resort experience on social media and create some buzz around the brand. Taco Bell is no stranger to audacious marketing, as in the case of their Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, which books weddings. Recently, the company also began making home deliveries via GrubHub.

The Bell Hotel website is now accepting sign-ups so fans can be notified when reservations open. The facility is expected to open August 9.

[h/t CNBC]

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