How Travelocity Opened My Eyes to Surprise Flight Changes
Whoever said, “Getting there’s half the fun,” must have had a personal jet, or a yacht, or maybe just a whole lot of patience. With airlines constantly canceling and consolidating flights based on availability, you’re never guaranteed to travel on the exact flight you booked. And, if there’s one thing that’s never certain when flying, it’s your seat.
Most airlines courteously allow you to select your seat while booking, but they're not required to notify you if they change that seat. This means your seat is likely to be passed along to someone else without you realizing until the last minute.
This game of musical chairs is frustrating, but it’s even more disappointing when it’s a surprise. On a recent trip to Seattle, a friend and I booked a hotel room and round-trip flight through Travelocity four months before our departure date. Websites like Travelocity, Kayak, or Expedia try and make it cheaper and easier to book your hotel, flight, and even rental car through their package itineraries. The only problem is using a third party travel agency means the airline isn’t going to contact you directly if your flight changes, they leave that to the travel agency.
So, when I went to check in 21 hours before my flight to Seattle, I was surprised that the website told me I needed to wait 24. I figured it was a glitch or something in their system and went back to look through my emails from Travelocity. There was only one with our original itinerary from the day we booked, nothing else saying our flight had changed. An hour later, United Airlines sent me an email saying I could now check in for my flight to Seattle, but the flight number, time, and our seats were all different from our original itinerary.
When I called United they told me the flight had changed once in May and twice in June. “Ah, you booked through an agent, they don’t always tell you when there’s changes.” Normally, I book everything directly through the hotel and airline, this was the first time I’d used Travelocity and it wasn’t something they openly advertised or that I realized.
We were fortunate though, our flight was only 3 hours later than expected, but this sudden change in plans meant we no longer had a ride to the airport and we missed some scheduled activities in Seattle. I’ve read horror stories of people arriving at the airport only to find their flight had been moved to the day before without their knowledge. Travelocity was uninterested in helping us move our seats, so we sat one row from the back, directly in front of the bathroom. The couple behind us had also had their seats changed, and the woman in front of us paid extra for an Economy Plus seat that she only found out she’d been bumped from 30 minutes before.
(One perk of sitting in the back was the nice flight attendant felt sorry and covertly gave us a bunch of free snacks, thank you awesome United flight attendant!)
How to avoid a surprise seat swap
While there isn’t much you can do to prevent a seat change, my best advice would be to double check your flight information a month in advance, and then again a week before your departure date. The earlier you spot changes to your flight or seat the easier it is to make different arrangements or bargain for a better seat with the airline.
Aside from doing research, I would avoid using travel agent websites and book directly through the airline when possible. If you’re looking for a convenient way to keep your travel information together, Google just released a new app called Google Trips. Using your Google account the app takes travel emails and automatically organizes your hotel, flight, and rental car reservations in one place. You can see past and future trips, starred places you saved on Google Maps, and even download entire itineraries for when you don’t have wifi or data. Google Trips is also a quick and easy way to check your flight for changes, at any time.
Without buying your own personal plane and crew, the easiest thing you can do to catch aggravating flight changes ahead of time is stay organized and on top of your trip information. It may not seem like fun, but with Google Trips and other travel planning apps you can keep an eye on things and avoid any unwanted surprises.
Cover photo by Ross Parmly from Unsplash.com