Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Emergency situations’

Flying to the 2012 London Olympic Games? Tips for maneuvering airline mayhem

The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games kicks off in a few hours and that means London is bracing itself with an influx of millions of spectators. If you’re one of the lucky tourists flying in for the games, be aware that you’re not the only one. London airports are shuttling in loads of tourists and the crowds are sure to cause some airline mishaps.

That is why I wanted to lend some tips to all of the Americans traveling to London about how to manage the inevitable airline mayhem.

How to speed through security

U.S. airport security is sure to be backed up due to the increased number of people flying abroad. If you want to help keep the security line moving, here are my suggestions.

  • Have your passport and boarding pass out and ready to give to security officers.
  • Pre-pack your liquids in a quart sized bag and have them ready for inspection.
  • Don’t wear metal to reduce your chances of being patted down.
  • Wear easy-off and easy-on shoes.
  • Place your electronic devices in the bins for easy scanning.
  • Take your items away from the security line before putting them back on, in order to keep the line moving.

For more information on maneuvering airport security, flip to my blog post on how to navigate TSA security.

What to do if your flight is canceled

Cancellations are common, especially when there is a high volume of traffic going to one location. Know that this is a possibility, and be prepared to act if necessary. Here’s my advice for what to do if your flight is canceled.

  • Immediately attempt to book a seat on another airline, either online or through the airline’s toll free numbers.
  • Check in at the new airline’s counter with your new reservation number to ensure you’ll make it on the flight.
  • If the new airline attempts to charge you extreme fees, try to negotiate with them and know that the associates behind the counter have more wiggle-room than they let on.
  • If you can’t book a flight for that day, immediately book a hotel room and then start looking for flights leaving the next day.
  • Remember to stay calm and be pleasant towards the airline employees who are trying to help you. They’re far more likely to help if you’re easy to work with.

For more information on how to handle a canceled flight, hop over to my blog post on what to do if you’re stranded in the airport.

How to fly through customs

With the influx of people in the country, assume passing through customs will not be easy. Here are my tips for maneuvering a customs traffic jam.

  • Make sure to follow the green exit channel designated for non-E.U. citizens. The blue channel, although typically shorter, is designated for E.U. citizens only.
  • Bring a good book or some other form of entertainment to keep you occupied while waiting in the customs line.
  • Fill out your customs card before meeting with border control.
  • Have your passport out and ready for inspection. Also, make sure to take off sunglasses or hats, so that border control can easily verify your passport picture.
  • Know the name and address of the place you’re staying, how long you will be in London, and what you plan on doing while you’re there. Most of the time, the border staff will ask you these questions before letting you into the country.

By following these easy tips, you’ll be sure to make it through Olympic air traffic as quickly as possible. Although the mayhem might be frustrating, just remember to keep calm and carry on — you’ll be sure to have a fantastic Olympic experience.

Friendly Planet erupts with activity after Iceland volcano blows

As I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t have to tell you about the travel disaster that hit so many people in Europe and elsewhere. I thought you might find it interesting to know what we, at Friendly Planet, did after the volcano in Iceland erupted.

As soon as we heard about it, we called all hands on deck because we had travelers that were crisscrossing Europe, and as far away as India, as part of their travel. We had to try and make sure that we knew where they were, what they needed, and had a steady stream of information going to them about what to do.

We started calling airlines, but that turned out to be a waste of time. The lines were absolutely overloaded and it was impossible to get through. So, we went online in order to reroute as many of our travelers as we could.

We started on Friday and we worked straight through Sunday, getting everyone we could back to the United States. I was impressed and inspired by how hard the Friendly Planet team worked to accommodate everyone and how appreciative many of our travelers were of our efforts.

Mandi Fulk of our air department deserves a special mention here. She became a whirling dervish, simultaneously handling calls, finding odd seats, and piecing together amazing itineraries to get people home quickly. Thanks to her efforts, most of the people who got home in a timely way avoided the extra days and weeks of waiting to get on later flights.

The traveling public probably doesn’t realize that in a crisis, travel agents, like travelers, are forced to slog through on their own. Our industry is fragmented, and full of rules that make things difficult.

It isn’t easy to sift through thousands of flights. When every flight is booked solid and there are literally thousands of travelers competing for those odd seats, finding the seat or two that will bring Mr. and Mrs. Jones home is very difficult. While we didn’t succeed 100 percent, I am very happy to say that we got pretty close. Who is it that said, “the enemy of very good is excellent?”

What to do if you’re stranded in an airport

I don’t have to tell you about the calamity that hit European (and other) air travelers last Friday. Only yesterday, flights began getting off the ground and air transportation finally started to return to normal. According to a report I heard on NPR this morning, it will be weeks and weeks before the backlog of flights is cleared. Who knows how long it’ll take for all the thousands of stranded passengers to get where they need to go.

It’s not every day that you have to worry about what to do if a volcano erupts and halts air traffic. On the other hand, as we learned this week, it can happen. That got me thinking. What do travelers need to know in the event that some force of nature grounds air traffic and throws their plans into gridlock?

Here are a few suggestions you can follow if you find yourself stranded, sharing an airport with hundreds of other travelers in the same boat as you.

  • Call the emergency numbers your travel agent gave you. Friendly Planet gives everyone emergency numbers to call in their destination as well as our own number that is manned 24/7. Report what has happened and ask if any assistance can be provided by your agents and their representatives and what you should do.
  • Stay calm. Don’t look for anyone to blame, and don’t become overwhelmed. And don’t shout at the ticket agent who is dealing with the snaking line of equally upset travelers. Be the one traveler who is sympathetic to that agent. Out of gratitude for your graciousness, the agent will be more inclined to help you before the guy behind you, who has turned red from frustration.
  • Don’t waste any time. Take action yourself, and don’t depend on someone to come rescue you. If your flight is canceled and you have not gotten immediate instructions from your agents, take matters into your own hands. Start working to find yourself a seat on a different airline. You can go the Web sites of airlines that fly from where you are to where you need to go, check availability on the spot, and often, grab a vacant couple of seats way before that hassled reservation agent behind the counter gets to you. Call the toll free numbers of the airlines if you can’t get online. In an airport, you can even go from counter to counter, if necessary, to look for seats.
  • Book a new seat. Once you’ve found a seat and booked it, take your luggage and go to the new airline’s counter. Check in and say you have a reservation. Make sure you wrote down the new reservation number. Show the agent your original ticket and say you want to go on the newly reserved flight. The airline might ask you to pay additional fees , and I suggest you pay the fees if necessary. If the fees are extreme, try and negotiate. The agents behind those counters have more leverage than they want us to know. And you can always ask for a supervisor in an effort to lower those fees. But even if you have to pay something for a new ticket, buy it if you can. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
  • Get a receipt. You can claim that extra money from your travel insurance. If you purchased travel insurance (everyone should purchase it), you will be reimbursed for your extra ticket expenses due to involuntary rerouting, as long as you rebook yourself in the same cabin as your original flight. If you’re flying in coach, don’t rebook yourself in business class if you want the insurance to cover your entire involuntary rerouting expense. If you don’t have travel insurance and you have to swallow the cost of that new ticket, consider yourself lucky. You got home and didn’t have to spend even more money on hotel accommodations and food. Some stranded passengers will be spending more than a week or even two weeks in a hotel, at their own expense. And if you’re missing work on top of that, the extra cost for the new ticket might start to look like a pretty good bargain after all.

What to do if you can’t book yourself on a new flight

  • Book a hotel room right away. If you have to stay overnight, the same rules apply. Don’t wait around for someone to offer you a free hotel room. If one flight was cancelled, then yes, the airlines would get you a room to stay in. But this will not happen when air traffic is suspended. Find a hotel room on your own or you’ll be sleeping on cot in an airport gate area, along with hundreds of other stranded travelers.

Remember, if you’re traveling away from home, be prepared for the unexpected. Always have extra cash available before you go away on vacation in case an event like this one occurs. Hopefully you’ll never have to dip in to your stash, but if you have to bear some extra costs in an emergency, you’ll be covered and won’t feel panic.

Most important of all, try to keep a level head. There are things that happen over which you have absolutely no control. When that happens to you, you need to think creatively and calmly about how you will solve the problems that arise from those things that happened.

You have no control over the volcano or the grounded flights, but you do have control over how you will choose to handle yourself during the crisis. Sometimes, the very best and most wonderful adventures are those that happen serendipitously.

At the very least, use that extra time that you’re stuck to check out one new thing about that destination that you wouldn’t have had time for otherwise. Browse the bookstore at the airport for a new read. Give yourself the luxury of a nap in the midst of chaos. Watch the people go by. Write in your journal. Whatever it takes to make the time pass productively until your life is back in your control once again.

If you follow these steps, you’ll get back to the United States much faster than waiting for the airlines to help you. If you have any questions about what to do in a travel emergency, write to me directly.

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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