Self-Help When Flights are Delayed and Cancelled, What Are the Best Mobile Apps and Websites?

Bloomberg carries a piece on travel apps that’s really about how to take control of your own travel during irregular operations.

I always try to find my own way of getting where I’m going, arm myself with a knowledge of what’s available, and then prepare to ask for exactly that — rather than rely on the options presented to me by an airline agent, either at the airport or over the phone.

When something goes wrong before the airport I can usually take care of it over the phone. Sometimes at the airport I do the same thing. If there’s a club lounge that I have access to, that’s usually the best place to get help — friendlier agents often times, certainly less stressed most of the time than the customer service agents in the rest of the terminal, and shorter lines.

But if I’m waiting in line I’ll usually get on my phone, too, and sometimes solve the problem by the time I get to the front.

Unfortunately it isn’t always as easy to search for alternatives when you’re at the airport as when you’re at home or in a hotel room. For one thing, mobile devices aren’t as adept as laptops at pulling up data through all available tools. And for another thing there’s sometimes a lack of internet connectivity, though most US airports are getting better about this – at least compared to where they were a couple of years ago.

Some recent examples of doing some real-time re-routing, based on options I found rather than what was presented by agents:

  • I’m sitting in my hotel room on the West Coast, and it turns out that a delay of an inbound aircraft the night before meant that the crew that was turning around had to get enough rest to be legal and our flight was delayed to accommodate that. That meant I would misconnect, and the only later flight home to my airport was sold out. I saw space to one of the other airports in the region, and asked to be put onto that. It was easily enough done, but not something proactively offered.

  • Snowstorm hits the region and most flights are cancelled. It was important to make it out for a lunch on the West Coast. Nothing was available, and the flights still scheduled were zeroed. I managed to come up with a seat on a regional jet to Kansas City, an airport overnight, and a flight the next morning to San Francisco that would arrive in time. When the agents said nothing was available, what they meant was there was nothing any sane person would want. They weren’t willing to pay for a Kansas City overnight, but an airport hotel was about $35 on Priceline.

  • Boss calls up, enroute to Maui, her upgrades were cleared all the way through with a connection in San Francisco. her flight out of DC was delayed and she was going to misconnect. They could offer something through Los Angeles in coach, or travel the next day. I suggested the Washington Dulles – Honolulu non-stop, and a United codeshare on Hawaiian for the short hop to Maui. Done — international lie flat business class seats instead of domestic first.

I usually use my laptop rather than my phone because I can get better, quicker access to data using websites and my Verizon MiFi device.

Here’s a set of key recommendations from the Bloomberg peice.

FlightTrack Pro ($9.99; iOS, Android) is the gold standard for flight tracking, and this app can often tell you what’s really going on before the airline announces changes. Ditto FlightAware (free; iOS, Android), which offers similar up-to-the-second tracking capabilities. Gary Leff, Condé Nast Traveler’s expert for frequent flier award travel, also recommends FlightStats.com and Expertflyer.com, two data-rich websites that can help you figure out which alternate routes might better suit your circumstances. “I don’t ever rely on the airline agents I’m working with on the phone or at the counter to re-route me during irregular operations,” Leff says. “I will usually find options that they don’t, sometimes because I’m just more motivated to get where I’m going than they realize.”

I find that Expert Flyer (pay service which will help you find availability) has a reasonable mobile site.

I tend to use the free FlightStats.com website (which doesn’t show American Airlines inventory, unfortunately), and the pay software program KVS Tool.

The piece recommends downloading your airline’s app, as well as GateGuru to find something decent to do at the airport and HotelTonight in case you’re stranded. I’ve often found myself re-routed and in need of a hotel night where the airline isn’t going to pay, frequently that’s when points come in but sometimes you do have to pay.

For travel apps generally, I also like the Google Translate app – speak and Google translates, take pictures of a menu and find out what it offers I find this one to be very cool while outside the US. And of course currency converters can be helpful as well.

I’m surprised by the limited functionality of rental car apps, and that National doesn’t even have one. If there’s one thing I’m likely to book last minute, or forget to book and would love to secure easily when I touch down, it’s a rental car.

Of course sometimes you aren’t going to drive, and getting a cab is tough, and for that I can’t recommend Uber highly enough. (Use my link and we each get a $10 credit with your first ride.)

The car service app can order up a vehicle with two taps and you can watch a the car head your direction, tracked on your screen. They keep your payment information on file so there’s no transaction to spend time on at the end, either.

It’s less than a pre-arranged car service, about 50% more than a cab (and in some cities they’re rolling out the technology for requesting a cab, too).

What apps and mobile websites do you find most useful for your travels?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I can’t agree enough about Expert Flyer. I travel mainly in Africa where missing a flight can often mean a delay of days rather than hours and airport staff rarely have access to aircraft movement information. Being able to track inbound flight status usually puts you one step ahead of the airline’s own staff and often makes a difference between a successful trip or heading home.

  2. WorldMate is my top travel app (or more specifically BlackBerry Travel which is the BlackBerry version of the app). Having all the reservation details in one place is invaluable and the notifications are sometimes more reliable than the ones from the airline. It has options for searching for hotels and flights if you become stranded and the built-in currency converter is quite handy.

  3. One way I found EF to be really useful recently was with same day standby. I realized in the morning of a trip that I was going to be able to get out of work earlier than I had originally anticipated. I went to see if I could change my flight but my bucket was all zeroed out (UA SDC rules). I set up an alert in EF for the two flights before mine searching for inventory in my booking code and low and behold about three hours later I got the email alert. I went back to the airlines website and switched flights with no hassle.

  4. @Scuta You can use FlightAware. Select your flight and there should be an option to track the inbound flight.

    Also if you’re flying United, the United mobile app has Where is this flight coming from? button that can be used to track inbound flight.

  5. If you have a smartphone/tablet, but no laptop, you’ll want a browser where you can change the User Agent/browser type. There’s nothing I hate more than being redirected to a useless “mobile” website when my device can handle pretty much anything. Changing the user agent to a desktop client will reliably get you the full website.
    I use Atomic, but Dolphin and Journey work just fine.

  6. I just had my wife put Flight Stats on her ipad and iphone and also put uber on her phone, signed up and sent a query for a Lyon pickup May 19…….I’ll let you know how it works versus the quote of $275 and $230 for car service and seeing my eyes glaze over from the local bus service directions……

  7. Boss calls up, enroute to Maui, her upgrades were cleared all the way through with a connection in San Francisco. her flight out of DC was delayed and she was going to misconnect. They could offer something through Los Angeles in coach, or travel the next day. I suggested the Washington Dulles – Honolulu non-stop, and a United codeshare on Hawaiian for the short hop to Maui. Done — international lie flat business class seats instead of domestic first.

    Your wife?

    Or your work boss?

    Either way, job well done.

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