Air travel this summer could be described as chaotic at best. You can’t relax until you actually reach your destination. Just when you think that everything is under control, trouble strikes. This summer is already especially trying due to factors out of your control:
- Overbooked flights,
- Delayed flights,
- Cancelled flights,
- Maintenance issues
- Bad weather,
- Aircraft shortages and
- Aircrew shortages.
We are going on a Danube River cruise next week and we had booked award tickets on British Airways in business class using Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. We booked the outbound and return last summer. We experienced some minor schedule changes but nothing that was earthshaking. Then it happened, two weeks before our flight to Budapest, we found out that British Airways cancelled our long-haul flight from Seattle to London Heathrow. There was no communication from British Airways. They didn’t bother to rebook us on another flight. I looked at our itinerary on BA.com and it only showed one flight, London Heathrow to Budapest. I went into panic mode immediately and then called Alaska Airlines to figure out how to rebook this trip so we could make our river cruise.
The Alaska Airlines “Global Department”
We were in trouble and we needed some serious spiritual guidance. Alaska Airlines has two types of phone agents, those that are trained in partner award booking and those that are not. When the agent answered the phone, I asked her if she was a “partner agent”. She wasn’t but she transferred me to an agent that was. I told the partner agent about my predicament and we both went to work. Since my change was going to be more than 60 minutes different (departure or arrival times), I was in the driver’s seat. This situation was no longer about whether British Airways had award ticket space on another flight. This was about getting us re-accommodated on some kind of flight to get to London Heathrow. Our original departure airport for British Airways was Seattle. With BA 48 now cancelled, I looked at BA 52 and there were no business class seats. It turns out that departing on June 9, there were only two flights from the U.S. with business class seats, one out of Denver and the other out of JFK.
I went through three scenarios with the agent and we now had a game plan. Now, it is time for the Global Department to take over and make the new booking happen. The Global Department is staffed by the most experienced agents who know how to deal with partner agents at the other end. Customers don’t get to talk with the Global Department agents. My partner agent put me on hold and called the Global Department and gave them my parameters for a replacement flight to LHR. I don’t know who these people are or how they do what they do but they saved our vacation. The Global Department must be staffed with “travel Genies” because they were able to rebook me with a better flight schedule.
From Getting Handed Lemons To Lemonaid
As I mentioned before, I had an opportunity to be in the driver’s seat on the rebooking. The original booking had a lengthy layover at LHR with our flight to Budapest landing after midnight. British Airways now had a flight 870 from LHR to Budapest that landed at BUD at 5:00 pm. We wanted to be on the earlier flight. There were some tradeoffs involved with the new schedule. The old schedule departed Seattle at night. Since British Airways was no longer an option out of Seattle, Alaska booked my flight to LHR on Alaska from Seattle to JFK where we will connect with British Airways. The new routing has us leaving Seattle at 7:25 in the morning. There was a flight to LHR from Denver on British Airways but we would still arrive in Budapest after midnight on the second day. The tradeoff was to depart Seattle hours earlier to arrive at Budapest at 5:00 pm while the sun was still up. This earlier Budapest flight was not an option for departing from Denver because we did not have the connection time available. Another tradeoff is that I could get a window seat on the flight leaving Denver but I had to accept an aisle seat on the flight that departs from JFK. Fixing problems often involves tradeoffs, you may have to make a decision by going with the best overall solution as the perfect solution is not available. Choosing the JFK departure was the best possible choice.
Even though the new schedule departed Seattle in the morning, it fixed two problems:
- It reduced our eight-hour layover at LHR and
- We land in Budapest over seven hours earlier while it is still daylight.
To be completely honest, we are just glad that we are getting to Budapest on the same day in business class. Getting into Budapest over seven hours earlier was even better. If you look at the new schedule you will see that the itinerary shows the British Airways flights in economy. Did the Global Department fix my problems or didn’t they? It turns out that the Alaska Airlines reservation computer knows that on Alaska Airlines, fare code “R” is economy class. In the land of British Airways, fare code “R” is business class and I verified this when I did our seat selection. Alaska booked our SEA to JFK in first class and we are having the new pancake choice for breakfast.
Lightening Strikes Again!
The Global Department came through and I had a confirmed booking in business class on British Airways ticketed all the way to Budapest. We were feeling pretty good as we dodged the bullet. The euphoria was short-lived. Two days later, I find out that British Airways cancelled our long-haul flight back home. Our home airport is Portland (PDX) and I originally booked the return from Prague via London Heathrow to Phoenix AZ with a positioning flight on Alaska back to Portland. I did this because there was no business class availability for June 23 at any west coast airport. We were OK with this as we have had to do this before.
OK, I’m back in the driver’s seat again. It doesn’t matter that British Airways doesn’t have any business class award seats from London to Portland (PDX). It is their problem and they need to handle the problem in a reasonable manner. On top of this, Alaska Airlines had cancelled our PHX to PDX flight for that same day so we had to overnight at the Phoenix Airport. It’s time to get the Global Department back on the job. With the new and substantially improved return schedule, I was able to cancel the PHX to PDX positioning flight.
My departure flight from Prague was still intact. I requested that the Global Department put us on BA 267 from London Heathrow to Portland, OR. The Global Department overdid it because I only needed to get back to Portland and not all the way to Phoenix. I called Reservations to inquire about this and we agreed that I would short-check our bags from Prague to Portland. As soon as we land at PDX, I will call Alaska Airlines and cancel the Portland to Phoenix leg to free up our first class seats for the PHX gate agents to assign gate upgrades. Our seats on BA 267 are confirmed in business class and we have selected our seats 4K and 5K. Again, the Alaska Airlines reservation computer sees fare code I as economy when fare code I at British Airways is business class.
What To Do When Flights Are Jeopardy
I check my Alaska Airlines app twice a day for schedule changes. It takes only about 30 seconds to quickly do a scan for problems. This is important because if your itinerary is in trouble and you need to rebook, you may be competing with 200 or 300 other passengers for the same limited resources. The sooner you address the problem, the better your outcome will be.
You need to know when you are in the driver’s seat. Typically if a schedule changes by over 60 minutes either departing or landing, you are in the driver’s seat. You don’t have to accept the airline’s new routing. You can request a routing that best serves your needs.
Stay calm and call the airline for assistance. When you do, be nice about it because phone agents get yelled at enough. Before you call, do your homework and write down several flight choices that are best for you when you pass the 60-minute change rule.
If your phone agent doesn’t understand what your problem is or they don’t know how to help you, ask for a “lead agent”. When your back is against the wall, you need an agent that has a lot of experience dealing with problems. The Alaska Airlines Global Department is staffed with all-star performers that will do their best to re-accommodate you with a new schedule that works for you.
If your destination is time-sensitive, consider adding one or two throw-away days at the beginning of your trip so that you arrive in time for your event. We have two days in Budapest to explore the city before our river cruise boards. You may need to use the throw-away days for rescheduled flights.
You may have to deal with tradeoffs in your new booking. In my case of dealing with tradeoffs, I choose the itinerary that was the best overall choice as a perfect solution may not be available.
TIP: Book one-way trips instead of round trips. Airlines use a rule called married segment logic. What this means is that if they change one direction, they have to rebook the entire trip. This really can get ugly if the married segments that you don’t want to change end up costing you more money or more miles.
We are two days from our departure to Budapest and I am still a little nervous. There is still time for things to go wrong. When that happens, Alaska Airlines has a group of all-star performers that work in the “Global Department”. We are so thankful that these highly experienced agents will try to get the job done that makes sense for you. We actually ended up with better schedules and routes than we did when we originally booked our flights. Kudos to the Alaska Airlines “Global Department” for saving our vacation.