For veteran travelers who face delays and difficulties on the road and in the air, one of the primary rules for fixing problems and easing journeys is: Never accept a "no" from a person who isn't authorized to say "yes."
You seldom see veteran travelers arguing with clerks who are just doing their jobs. Clerks often say "no" either because they've been told to say "no" or because "no" is easier than having to make an extra phone call or change some numbers in a computer. The key is to find a person with power, someone who is willing to listen to your request and consider it. The answer still may be "no," but you know that you gave it your best shot.
A corollary to the power rule is: It never hurts to ask. You may be amazed at the response to a polite, respectful request.
That's what happened to me recently at the airport in Cleveland, Ohio. I was on the way to Miami to review a new cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas. My ticket on American Airlines was bought at the cheapest fare. So, I had connecting flights -- Cleveland to New York's LaGuardia, then a second plane from LaGuardia to Miami. The trip, a total of more than five hours, included a connection in New York of only 35 minutes. So, any delay on the flight from Cleveland would jeopardize the connection for me and any luggage, which is why I had packed my stuff in a small wheeled carry-on bag -- no easy feat in these days of increased security and minimal liquids allowed. (I bought a small deodorant, small toothpaste and small suntan lotion.) Moreover, my schedule was so tight that I would miss a 3 p.m. bus from the Miami airport to the Miami seaport, and would have to take a taxi to meet the Liberty of the Seas before it sailed.
But as I waited in Cleveland at the gate for my 9:55 a.m. flight to LaGuardia, I noticed that American Airline's daily non-stop flight from Cleveland to Miami, scheduled to leave at 7:35 a.m., had been delayed for more than two hours and that passengers were still waiting to board. When I heard an announcement that the plane's crew had been delayed but was arriving soon and that boarding would follow, I moseyed over to the gate. I asked the American Airlines man at the counter if the plane to Miami had any available seats. I showed him my boarding passes to New York and the connection to Miami.
"Wait a few minutes," he said. He was busy with other details. I waited, as my other flight began to board.
"Any checked luggage?" he asked (because my bags already would be on the plane to New York).
"No, just carry-on."
"Are you sure?" he asked (because once the gate door was closed to the New York flight, I couldn't change my mind).
"I am sure," I said. "This will get me to Miami at least two hours earlier."
After some computer clicking and clacking, he handed me a new boarding pass for the non-stop flight to Miami, and soon I was in the air. Less than four hours later, I was aboard ship, sitting in my cabin on the Liberty of Seas http://www.libertyoftheseasondemand.com/ -- before my old flight from New York was scheduled to land in Miami.
Air travel these days can be unpleasant. Planes are packed. Short connection times between flights often leave travelers without a moment for buying food. And with all the tight schedules, bad weather can mean long delays.
Be prepared: Carry food and water (bought after you pass through security). Be patient: Bring plenty of reading material. Be alert, be polite and find the person in charge if you have a problem. In Cleveland, I recognized an opportunity and asked politely. The American Airlines gate representative did not have to honor my request. He could have said "no." But he also had the power to say "yes."
That American Airlines man made my day much easier. And I am thankful.
The writer: David Molyneaux is editor of www.TravelMavens.net.