The American way to handle a mechanical delay — or not

About half an hour into the redeye flight from Maui to Los Angeles last Wednesday, the cabin lights abruptly flashed on. But that didn’t wake me up. It was the captain’s announcement that jarred me to alertness.

“We’ve had a fire in the forward galley,” he said with the professional detachment you’d expect from an airline pilot. “The fire has been put out. We’re diverting to Honolulu.”

It was stranger-than-fiction way to end a fascinating trip to Maui with my son (more on that on National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog next week). Our adventure began with a tsunami warning a week before and an evacuation from our ground-floor room at the Grand Wailea.

I didn’t think it could get any more interesting than that. I was wrong.

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“We knew something was wrong when there was no place to check in for our flight”

Flight schedules change. It’s a simple fact of life in the air.

But timing is important. If the flight is rescheduled before your departure, you normally have an opportunity to take another flight of your airline’s choosing or to get a full refund. If it’s canceled at the time of your departure, you’re entitled to more compensation.
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Air Canada refunds ticket and hotel bill — even though it didn’t have to

aircanadaOnce in a blue moon, you come across a hard-luck story with a happy ending that involves an airline doing something nice for a passenger, even though it doesn’t have to. Nancy Pearson’s tale of trying to get to Toronto for a surprise birthday party is one of them.

See, airlines write these dense, often illegible contracts that let them off the hook for just about everything. So when a passenger asks for something, they can point to the fine print and say: “It’s not in there!”

Not this time.
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