In light of Superstorm Sandy and the upcoming winter season, I wanted to share some travel tips for situations that airlines call irregular operations, or IRROPS, as it is affectionately abbreviated. Irregular operations take place when a flight or a number of flights experience delays that are caused by one or more factors including aircraft, catering, strike, weather, crew, air traffic control, security breaches, and many others. IRROPS can occur any time of the year, but the chance is more likely during both the summer peak travel time when spontaneous thunderstorms arise and also in the winter when snowstorms and blizzards occur. Here are some tips to cope with an IRROPS situation: Before the trip- Sign up for trip alerts from your airline’s website or smartphone app—airlines will text message or call you to let you know of a flight delay or cancellation if you sign-up for this free service. Pack an extra pair of underwear and socks as well as enough toiletries to get you through an extra day in case you find yourself in an unexpected overnight situation and cannot get to your checked baggage. Print out and carry your itinerary and receipts with your carryon essentials. Research and take note of alternate flights and routes if bad weather is expected or if you have a tight connection. Know the airline’s hubs—Cities where most flights from the airline go in and out of to connect its passengers. This will assist you in figuring out where you can connect through should you need to get rerouted. Know the airline’s partners and their hubs should you need to reach your destination an alternate way—If an airline cannot get you on to its plane for a departure within several hours, it may consider accommodating you on partner airline. The number of hours required to be re-accommodated on a partner airline varies by airline and circumstance; for example, United Airlines will look at partner airlines if the delay is four or more hours from an uncontrollable delay. Airlines usually prefer to keep you on the airline the ticket was originally booked on, followed by a partner airline; only if all possibilities become exhausted will they put you on competitor carrier. Know your destination’s co-terminals—Cities with multiple airports that are a short drivable distance; for example: Los Angeles Airport (LAX) and Orange County airport (SNA) are co-terminals as well as Washington Dulles (IAD), Washington National (DCA), and Baltimore Washington International (BWI). If your flight is significantly delayed, and a different flight is operating to a co-terminal airport, this may make the difference between you getting to the city of your final destination quickly versus arriving a day or two later. Check for travel waivers—Often times if an area anticipates a storm, airlines will issue a travel waiver which relaxes some of their stringent policies on changing nonrefundable tickets. This may allow you to change your departure times or days without a charge for whatever reason you deem necessary. Check the terms of the waiver carefully. In some cases, change fees will be waived, but if you have to be rebooked in a more expensive fare class, you will have to pay the difference out of your pocket. In other cases, any and all fare differences and change fees will be waived so you have a lot more latitude to make changes at no additional cost. There is also an end date by which you must reschedule the trip, so if you want to change a weekend getaway to a date several weeks later, it might even be possible. Anticipating a delay during the trip- Note that airlines anticipate some delays and pad regular schedules slightly to allow for this depending on the flight’s on-time record, airport of departure, and other factors such as how many other flights are leaving at the same time. If you ever have been on a flight that did not actually take off until thirty-five minutes after departure, for example, but you still manage to land on-time, it is because of the airline scheduling extra time or because you had wonderful tailwinds pushing the flight. Use multiple sources for checking the flight status—usually, information to the passenger is relayed by the ground crew, flight monitors, or flight crew faster than an airline’s website, but every so often, the website is faster. Figure out where the plane is arriving from—Airlines often put this information online now, but you can certainly check the “arrivals” monitors at the airport. Look for the corresponding gate number of the inbound flight by looking for the gate you are departing from and see if the plane you are taking is truly arriving on-time so that you can have an on-time departure. Also, be aware that in hub airports, flights with significantly delayed incoming aircraft’s may be swapped. Remember that when your arriving aircraft pulls up to the gate, it will take some minimum amount of time before you will board—Passengers from the arriving airplane that you are taking must deplane, and the plane must be cleaned, and the crew for your flight must board and check things over before passengers and you can board. If your flight shows an on-time departure, but your aircraft has not even arrived at the gate twenty minutes before, you will almost certainly be delayed. Smaller regional jets with fewer than 100 seats usually have a faster turnaround factor so not much time is required between flights. Flights that arrive from international destinations require a much longer turnaround because of extensive catering removal service, extra cleaning, blanket and pillow removal, and the fact that the plane is often larger than a normal domestic plane. If your flight becomes mildly delayed- Inquire what the cause of the delay may actually be. Often the airline website states a generic reason such for a delay such as “maintenance” or “weather.” If you ask an agent, he or she will usually be able to provide you more detail and an estimate of the anticipated length of the delay. If the delay is because of Air Traffic Control and you are waiting in the terminal, be very careful to not stray far away from your gate. Flights can suddenly be cleared to depart and the airline is not obligated to wait for missing passengers. Even if you were on the plane and had return to the gate to deplane you are still responsible for staying near the gate. If your flight becomes very delayed Contact your hotel or hotel reservation number if you did not guarantee your room for a late arrival. Ask the airline gate agent or customer service representative politely for a food voucher— while most airlines do not initially offer vouchers for issues outside of their control such as weather, Air Traffic Control, or “acts of God” they may after an extenuating delay of several hours. If your flight is cancelled- Call your airline’s reservation number, get on your computer, or get to a kiosk as fast as possible to get rebooked. If you are at a larger airport, you can also go to a customer service center. Also, consider going to another gate to get rebooked if the delay is unique to your flight and is not an airport-wide delay. Be mindful that a gate agent has a responsibility to his or her own flight first and foremost. If you are at a small airport with only one agent who happens to be the gate agent, call the airline reservations phone number, your travel agent, or travel department while waiting in line. If you are at an airport that has an airline lounge to which you have a membership, head over there to get rebooked. There should be dedicated agents in the club who are standing by to help you. Above all, be friendly—the majority of the people on your cancelled flight picked that flight for a particular reason and have important commitments on the other end. While you are probably in the same scenario, getting stressed out about the situation will not help. The agents who are rebooking passengers are probably overwhelmed from the debacle and any irate passenger is sure to make things worse. Being polite and understanding that the gate agent did not cause the cancellation is important to remember. You may come out ahead being nice, too—the agent may sympathetically assign you a seat with more legroom that you would normally reserve with a fee, gratis; otherwise this may be a good time to ask for the seat for free. Besides, sitting back and watching seemingly civilized individuals turn into crazy beings can be entertaining. Usually when people get rebooked, the new flight is within 24 hours. Even if you are spending the night, make sure to get a boarding pass from the agent who did the rebooking and check that it is for the correct destination and date. With so many rebookings in a short period of time, an agent can easily make an error. Unless the airline is at fault for the cancellation, such as a mechanical problem or a crew related issue, or you are an incredibly high status holder of the airline, it is unlikely the airline will pay for your hotel if you are stranded overnight. Instead, make sure to get a slip of paper from the airline that provides you with a special low distress rate at designated nearby hotels. For peace of mind, you should call one of the hotels on the paper to make sure that a room is held for you. You will need to provide the slip when checking in at the hotel to be eligible for the rate. The rate is much more reasonable compared to walking up to a hotel at the last minute under normal circumstances. Contact the hotel in your destination city—Call the hotel directly or the customer service department through the national reservation number and inform them that your flight has been cancelled. Many hotels will work with you to waive any cancellation charges. If you are starting your journey, your flight has been cancelled, and you no longer wish to travel you should be entitled to a full refund.