Five Things to Do When Your Trip is Disrupted


Many of you have heard tales of unfortunate travelers who find themselves on the wrong side of the boarding door.  Well, let me tell you another… and share some lessons learned during the process.  During out trip from SFO – LAX – LIH (Kauai, HI), Brooke and I found ourselves in this very unfortunate situation as we sprinted to a closed boarding door during our connection at LAX.  Let me start from the beginning…

“I will book a ticket on some garbage airline.  I don’t wanna name an actual airline, so lets just make one up.  Let’s call it, like, Delta Airlines!”  – John Mulaney (comedian)

If you have been reading this blog for long, you probably know that we booked our free tickets to Hawaii on Delta Airlines using an awesome loophole.  The first leg of our trip went smoothly between Kansas City and San Francisco, but the second leg was pretty rough.  We arrived at our departure gate at the SFO airport an hour early to find that our connecting flight to LAX was delayed 20 minutes… no big deal.  Then it was delayed an hour… then two hours.  We began to get nervous, because our 2.5-hour layover would now be only 30 minutes.  After another 10-minute delay on the runway at SFO and 10 minutes spent waiting to approach our gate at LAX, we literally had ten minutes before our flight departed for Kauai!

The flight attendants on our plane reached out to the gate agent for our Kauai flight, and they assured us that the plane would wait.  Of course they would wait, right??  They knew we were coming!  Fortunately, our flight was departing from the next gate over and we could see the plane sitting at the gate as we pulled in.  As soon as the plane door opened, we sprinted to our gate… and the boarding door was closed!  We had called ahead, arrived before the stated departure time, and the door was still closed.


At this point, I had no idea what to do.  I was so angry and felt completely powerless.  I do not want any of you to feel this way, so here are five things you can do if you find yourself in our shoes.

  1. Calm down.  No amount of reasoning, yelling, pleading, or crying will open that door. – We stood in disbelief as the gate agent told us the flight had already departed.  I pointed to the actual plane sitting at the gate and asked the gate agent to let us board.  He refused.  Finally a manger came over and begrudgingly called the tower as the plane started to back out.  Finally, he said “Oops, looks like we’re too late.”  We were absolutely blown away by the lack of customer service these Delta agents displayed.  The manager finally told us that they wouldn’t open the door because “flight delays are tracked, and they cost us a lot of money.”
  2. Demand compensation, be firm, but do not expect much. – The agent re-booked us on a flight to HNL, and then an early morning flight to Kauai.  This would cost us a night at our resort in Kauai.  We confirmed that Delta would be paying for our hotel in Honolulu and they agreed, instructing us to speak with customer service at the HNL airport.  We also asked for meal vouchers, which they refused twice until I became quite angry.  They relented and printed vouchers for dinner and breakfast.  At the HNL airport, we found out that our Delta-paid accommodations would be the AIRPORT BEST WESTERN… I tried to argue, but by midnight in Hawaii (4am CST), I had lost the will to fight.  We gave up and slumped off to the hotel.
  3. Follow up with airline customer service. – At the “hotel” that night, I fired off a scathing recap of our experience to Delta customer service.  I was not really sure what I expected, but three days later I got an email from Delta offering both Brooke and me a “$75 gift” as a way of saying sorry for letting us down.  We ended up redeeming the gifts for Amazon credit of $150.  This may not have completely made up for the lost night at our resort, or the horrific customer service, but we would have never gotten these “gifts” without following up.
  4. Put your trip back together. – Make sure that you contact your hotel and let them know what happened, so they don’t count you as a no-show.  Also, we learned that most rental car companies have a 24-hour hold period before they cancel a reservation.  Since we arrived 13 hours late to our destination, our rental car was still waiting for us.
  5. Request a refund for the lost hotel night(s). – Obviously, it is not the hotel’s fault that we did not arrive for our first night.  However, it was not our fault either.  I firmly believe that Delta should be the one to compensate for the lost hotel night, but good luck with that!  I spoke to the resort manager to request a refund, but since we paid with points, he directed me to Starwood customer service.  (Important to note, we booked under the 5th night free promotion – which reduced our per-night cost from 12,000 points to 9,600 points)
    • First, I tried chatting with Starwood customer service using the online chat function.  This was an immediate dead end when the agent told me that the 5th night was free, and there would be no refund.
    • Next, I sent a brief email requesting a refund.
    • Finally, since I didn’t want to wait for an email response, I called customer service.  Rep #1 said NO refund and transferred me to another department.  Rep #2 said NO refund but offered 500 courtesy points for our frustration.  I thanked her but asked for a manager, who offered 5,000 points.  I accepted this, even though we had used 9,600 points for that night.  I was grateful that Starwood offered compensation, since they were not to blame.

If you travel enough, you are bound to encounter a similarly frustrating scenario.  Hopefully these five items will help you work through the frustration.  Just remember to try to stay calm, take things in stride, and enjoy the remainder of your trip.  Follow up and let customer service know that you were disappointed, and hopefully they will try to make things right.  Have any of you encountered a similar situation to ours?


5 thoughts on “Five Things to Do When Your Trip is Disrupted

  1. Great advice! We had 12 minutes to connect to a flight recently and just made it fortunately.

    In regards to asking for the manager on the phone, what do you say to them? Just repeat your case and say this is not acceptable?


  2. Since Starwood wasn’t to blame for you missing a night, why did you press so hard to get them to compensate you? Why not have Delta compensate you for the cost of the room less the hotel they got + their gift of $150?


    • I just went through my contact options for Starwood. The hotel encouraged me to contact customer service and make the request. Delta was not offering any additional compensation.


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