A 5-Step Checklist for Handling Air Travel Woes on the Go

After a summer of horror stories about flying, the thought of airline travel might make you queasy. A recent Tech Fix column detailed several tips for planning an easier journey, but what can you do if that journey is disrupted en route? Here’s a plan for using your smartphone as a travel aid while you hope for the best — but prepare for the worst.

1. Check Your Apps

If you haven’t done so, download the official apps for the airlines you’ll be using on your trip. You may have signed up for travel alerts by text or email when you booked your flight, but you can get notifications in the airline app, too — along with tools that come in handy when plans go awry.

Before you fly, grab the official app, far left, for the airline you’re using from your app store. Many airline apps offer helpful tools, near left, like airport maps and baggage tracking.Credit…Google; American Airlines

A weather app that shows you the conditions at all your flight-connection points is useful for advance planning. And if inclement weather or airline issues cancel your flight, having apps for hotel chains, car-rental services or even train schedules already installed can help you quickly book a place to stay for the night or find alternative ground transportation.

2. Check Your Flight

Most airline apps offer mobile check-in and digital boarding passes 24 hours before takeoff, as well as a status screen to see if your flight is on time, delayed or canceled. (Airline notifications also alert you to changes in the flight’s status.)

If a flight is delayed or canceled, it’s often because the designated plane is behind schedule on a prior assignment. Some major airline and tracker apps include a “Where’s My Plane?” feature that shows the current location of the aircraft assigned to your flight. If you see that your plane is late arriving and you’ll miss your next connection, you can immediately start the rebooking process.

Airline apps show your flight’s current status, and some even display the current whereabouts of the aircraft you’ll be riding so you can see if it’s at the gate yet (or not).Credit…United Airlines

Third-party flight-tracker apps work across multiple airlines and provide additional information, like worldwide airport delays. Flightradar24 and FlightAware (both free with in-app subscription purchases) or the free basic FlightStats are among the many options for Android and iOS users. Flighty for the iPhone ($6 a month; various plans are available) monitors air traffic, detects disruptions to your flight plans and alerts you right away.

Apps like Flightradar24, FlightStats, FlightAware and Flighty (all shown here) not only track your flight but also provide information on other flights, airport delays, weather and more; most apps require a subscription for all their features.Credit…From left, Flightradar24; FlightStats; FlightAware; Flighty

For a simple flight status, just type the airline and flight number into your preferred search engine.

3. Check Your Baggage

Stuffing everything into a carry-on solves lost-luggage worries, but if you do check a bag, you might have freeluggage tracking. Delta Air Lines and other carriers have been using radio-frequency identification tags on checked bags for several years. You can get updates on your suitcase’s location by tapping the Track My Bags button in your airline’s app.

Some carriers, including Delta Air Lines, use special tags on your bags so you can track them in the company’s app.Credit…Delta Air Lines

If your carrier doesn’t offer bag-tracking, you don’t trust it or you’d rather do it yourself, consider slipping an inexpensive location-reporting device like a Tile or an Apple AirTag into your suitcase and tracking it with your smartphone.

4. Check the Airport

If your flight is delayed and you’re stuck at an unfamiliar airport, fear not. There are maps to aid in your quest for phone-charging stations, coffee and other essentials. Your airline’s app may already include airport maps, as do some flight-tracking and travel apps.

Many airline apps, like those for American Airlines, far left, and Virgin Atlantic, include terminal maps for the major airports they service.Credit…Far left, American Airlines; left, Virgin Atlantic Airways

Apps dedicated to airport layouts are available, but programs you probably have already — like Google Maps and Apple Maps — often have terminal maps.

If your airline’s app doesn’t include airport layouts, Apple Maps, far left, and Google Maps can often show you around the terminal.Credit…Apple; Google

And if you have a flight connection coming up, check the map to familiarize yourself with the layover airport. You may need to hoof it at high speed to make that next leg of your trip.

5. Check Your Options

If your flight is canceled, jump right into the rebooking process on your phone. Most airlines let you reschedule through their apps or websites, and it’s almost always quicker than dialing the customer-service line. (Visit your airline’s website for information on its specific rebooking process.)

If you’re worried that your flight may get canceled, prepare by visiting your airline’s customer-service guide (like Delta’s, shown here) and familiarizing yourself with its rebooking procedure.Credit…Delta Air Lines

If no seats are available, it may be possible to transfer your ticket to another airline, but ask your original carrier. If not, Google Flights or travel-booking sites like Kayak or Expedia will show alternative flights. But if you’re grounded for the day and the airline doesn’t provide a voucher, fire up your apps for hotels — or alternative travel methods if you desperately need to get to your destination.

In some cases, you may have travel credits or refunds for canceled flights coming to you. Companies like AirHelp can guide you through a claim, but some credit cards include trip interruption insurance already, so inquire if you paid with that card. The Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection site has a page of resources online already, and a new interactive dashboard for frustrated travelers is expected by Sept. 2.

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