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How to deal with travel disasters

Attitude is everything!

Before I bare my travelling foibles on the world wide web, let me start by saying I’m not cavalier with travel. I always have travel insurance. I take every precaution (welllll…) but still sometimes, despite the best laid plans, things go awry.

I have ranted and I have cried bubbles out my nose at airport counters, I have been patient and I have been apologetic. I have thanked and I have praised and as with everything else in life, I have found with the right attitude there is always a solution (albeit not one you might have been planning on).

Dealing with cancelled flight
Take a breath!

No one goes out of their way to help a snarky or angry person, so if you err on the side of being polite – and ask to speak to the manager if the attendant seems unable to assist, chances are things will get sorted out with minimal inconvenience.

Here’s a round up of some of my (thankfully few) travelling mishaps and how they were resolved.

UPDATE: As I write, my sister and brother-in-law have been turned around on their flight from Auckland to Hong Kong 2.5 hours into the midnight flight. Another 2.5 hours and they have landed back in Auckland at the start of their trip of a lifetime to Europe. A pilot had taken ill in the cockpit and paramedics came on board to whisk him off to hospital.

No one begrudges the airline turning around BUT the problem was how the airline and the airport handled it – which was appalling. They were offloaded, told to collect their luggage and RETURN THEIR DUTY FREE! (My sis said she’s now wearing her new lipstick :D) Then they waited in line for over an hour to be given a slip of paper to phone an 0800 number and REBOOK THEMSELVES on new flights! All 400 passengers. No one could get through on the phone lines.

Long story short, the flight has been rescheduled to leave 12 hours after it returned and everyone is spending the day in Auckland hotels.

Here’s a tip: Take to social media! While the airline hasn’t responded to my tweets, three media outlets have and they will put pressure on the airline to explain their protocol around this issue.

Also, call your travel agent to sort it out for you (another good reason to use a travel agent), remain calm as a nice demeanor gets the worm. And it has: they are now hunkered down in an airport hotel 20 steps from the terminal and being last in line were given all the remaining meal vouchers so will at least sleep and eat well.

Flight cancelled sign
Pic from Shutterstock/Niroworld

Here are my 9 best tips for what to do if you find yourself facing disaster on your holiday…

What to do if you miss a flight

Tears and tantrums don’t tend to work here. However tears and asking them if there is anything they can suggest, often does. In my experience.

Sometimes I have missed planes because I didn’t get to the airport on time and sometimes I miss them because the connections are late.

Here’s a tip: if you book your whole itinerary with a travel agent, they will sort it out. If you book your whole itinerary on one airline and on one ticket (as I did this year in the US on American Airlines) they will rebook you on another flight in every effort to ensure you don’t miss your connection.

In the latter case it was our final flight home to New Zealand from LA we were in danger of missing thanks to a 90 minute delay from Dallas Fort Worth. No probs.

However, if it had been say Southwest connecting to AA – no responsibility. And this is what happened to my mum and me one time when Cayman Airways cancelled a flight to Miami meaning we had to go later and miss our connection to San Francisco. I admit to being very angry about that and finally they gave us a voucher for a room at Miami Airport (but we forfeited a night in San Fran).

Note: I think while my anger/frustration led to a hotel voucher, they declined to give us a meal voucher. Perhaps a happier attitude and we wouldn’t have had to pay for our airport food!


What to do if you book a flight for wrong day

This is pretty much like missing a flight. I had booked single sector fares all over the US on our 3 week trip last year and this one was from Miami to LA after our cruise to Cuba.

I don’t know how it happened, but all I can say is when we turned up for our flight our booking reference belonged to a guy called Kevin and then it unravelled that our booking was made for June 3 not July 3. Which explains how expensive it was too since I had booked it for travel on the same day – only I was in New Zealand!

Fortunately the delightful American Airlines attendant saw by fallen face (she thought I was going to cry, she said) and with fingers flying over the keyboard managed to rebook us (yes we had to pay for new tickets) and later I was able to plead my sorry case to the airline and get a partial refund for my stupidity.

Here’s a tip: save your tickets and boarding passes to send in with a pleading letter when you get home. You never know your luck if the error is all yours!


What to do if you lose your passport

So this happened: the night before we are due to leave my brothers house after a week in the Caymans and my husband can’t find his passport.

We searched until past midnight. We tipped everything upside down and thoughts of waiting days for a new passport to be issued danced through my head.

Our airport check in was 5am the next day so with nary a wink of sleep we decided we’d go anyway on the off chance he had left it there (of course with a couple of days notice we could have found out). Lo, it was there. Safely tucked away in security (that wasn’t open until 6am) and off we went. His document wallet that was lost too was never recovered, but that was the least of our worries as he could just reprint travel insurance docs.

Here’s a tip: I have the photo page of my passport saved as a photo on my phone, which I know isn’t going to get me on a plane to a foreign destination, but it will help should I need to fill out paperwork to report it stolen.


Credit cards for travelling
I’m ready to spend!

What to do if your credit card is stopped

This is a pain when you’re mid travels. We were on our honeymoon and for some reason a transaction at a store in Santa Monica was put through three times and the bank (rightly) stopped it.

The problem was getting hold of the bank to find out what had happened and to get the transaction reversed and refunded. It took three weeks and we were without his card the whole time.

Here’s a tip: travel with more than one credit card and keep your emergency one separate, maybe with your passport, in case you lose your wallet.


What to do if you get Delhi Belly/Bali Belly

Call it what you like but the outcome is the same: tummy cramps and diarrhea.

We all know not to drink water from the taps in certain places, but even a gulp under the shower or while cleaning your teeth can lead to the nasties.

And the food, well let’s just say most of time common sense is all you need, but I’d eaten a piece of cold chicken at a luncheon in the Philippines and was bed ridden the next day. Not because of the discomfort, more because I needed to be within immediate cooee of a toilet.

And then there was the time I ate chicken at the floating markets in Bangkok and came back with campylobacter – a notifiable illness that I was sent a piece of A4 paper to read and put in the bathroom about keeping the rest of my house safe!

I find the best solution is to drink (purified) water and flush it through. Literally. Immodium can have the reverse affect and end up bunging you up so that the pain persists but nothing “evacuates”, if you know what I mean. Oh and the other tip is probably avoid chicken!

Mt Yasur
The top of Mt Yassur, Tanna Island Vanuatu.

What to do in the case of an “Act of God”

It’s no one’s fault when an “act of God” means your flight is cancelled and plenty of us have experienced that, be it from fog to hurricanes to volcanoes exploding or other weather encounters.

I remember landing in Miami just after Hurricane Wilma had blasted through and the city was still under a flight curfew looking like it had been in a fight with ripped billboards, stripped palm trees and broken windows.

Several people waiting for the flight to the Cayman Islands ended up sleeping at the airport all huddled together. But not me! I dashed to the booth of free airport phones (do they even have these anymore?) and managed to beg my way into a room even though the hotel had no power. I was fine with that – I just wanted a bed!

Here’s a tip: if you are stranded, comply with the staff who are trying to help. But honestly, if you have another person with you, I’d also do my own inquiries. One stay in line, one get online and make a hotel booking at the nearest hotel to the airport before everyone else does!

Note: Insurance companies do not usually pay out for acts of God.


What to do when your liquids are confiscated

It’s easy to forget you have a water bottle or even a big bottle of lotion in your carry on luggage and oops, suddenly they’re rescanning your stuff at security and your bag is pulled aside.

Don’t worry, it happens all the time and there are no consequences except that the offending item will be confiscated. Which was a pain when I had bought an oil diffuser one time and then another time I forgot I had to transit through Australia and had a cute pate knife I’d bought at the airport in South Africa confiscated in Sydney en route to New Zealand.

The bottom line though is you won’t be in trouble, so just take it on the chin, gather up your things and put it behind you.


What to if your luggage goes missing

This is a pain and happens remarkably seldom when you consider how many billions of bags are flying around the world in a year!

But when it happens, the first thing to do is not panic. Every time it’s happened to me my luggage has shown up within a day or two and been delivered to my door.

But first, go to the airline desk or lost luggage office in the arrivals area and find out some facts: are anyone else’s bags missing? Have they been stacked in another area (this happened to me once when my bags had made their own way across the US on an earlier flight and were abandoned on the carousel so were taken to a lost luggage area awaiting pick up).

These days with tracking barcodes, they will probably be able to find out where it was last scanned and let you know when it will be arriving. Fill out the form.

Here’s a tip: take a photo of your luggage and keep it on your phone in case you need to complete the lost luggage form and need to describe it. Or better yet, the guy is heading out the back to look for it and knows exactly what he’s after.

Here’s another tip: pack your medications, jewellery, laptop, chargers and anything you can’t live without in your cabin bag.

Lost luggage at airport
Check for a stash like this one!

What to do if your luggage is damaged

I’ve been standing at baggage carousels when around comes my bag wrapped in tape. Hello?

Or sometimes it’s been busted with a massive crack or rip in it. I’ve also stood there and watched other passengers undies come round unaccompanied!

This is one of the reasons why travel insurance is a good idea, but in this instance the airline should take responsibility for the damage. What you do if this occurs is pick up the remnants and take it to an official there in the hall. Don’t take it out of the airport, you need to at least log the damage and have it witnessed. This will be the report that you file with the airline or with your insurance company.

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Kathryn Enright

Saturday 10th of August 2019

Wish I had read your blog before I left Budapest !!! A delayed flight to Frankfurt meant we missed our flight to Singapore.. they closed the gate as we dashed through the airport at 10 pm !! We were flying Business Class luckily but still took us 2 hours to find a Hotel Then Lufthansa left us a message at the Hotel to be back at the airport to find an ongoing flight Got rerouted through Goha .. on Qatar Airlines ... .. tired and pleased we’d held onto our sanity Lufthansa gave us €50 for meals We were pleased we’d packed a change of clothes and basic toiletries in our carry on .. that was great advice in a previous blog of yours .. keep the advice coming Thanks K


Saturday 10th of August 2019

Oh what a total drama!! Glad you’ve survived it x

robecca from sans pareil

Sunday 2nd of July 2017

This was super helpful. I'm sad to say that I am that person who always seems to have something go wrong when traveling! I've had food poisoning from the plane food, had my luggage lost, missed flights - you name it! All you can do is laugh. xx


Sunday 2nd of July 2017

So true! But sometimes the laughter can take a while... ;)

Marilyn Revell

Sunday 2nd of July 2017

Hi Megan. My favourite tip is if you have a problem with your mobile, bank or airline when you are overseas contact then via a Facebook message on their page. Most companies have people dedicated to dealing with social media queries and I have had great response from Spark and Westpac bank while overseas. Also do you have any recommendations for travel insurance for over 70s? Seeing as this is a sector that has the time and money to travel, you would think that they would have companies fighting for their cover


Sunday 2nd of July 2017

Yes great tip Marilyn. I find social interactions get responses most of the time! Have you seen my post on insuring seniors? Try these companies and let me know how you get on:

Leigh McGowan

Sunday 2nd of July 2017

Take half the clothes and twice the money !

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!