Mobile to the rescue when an airplane trip goes awry

An iPhone and iPad help our intrepid traveler survive flight delays, flight cancellations, and unexpected overnight stays

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Sometimes, you need people
But the new connecting flight was 15 hours later, on the next day, so now I had to figure out where to spend the night. The severe weather in the region was causing all flights to be canceled, so I knew hotels would fill up fast. No way was I going to stand in line for a couple hours in hopes United might put me up -- airlines don't do that any more.

I didn't know the area and didn't want to stay at some place that would require a long taxi or shuttle ride. Rather than use the travel app provided by my company's travel agency, I simply called the travel agency for help from a live person (the contact number was in my email confirmation of the trip). We tend to forget that smartphones let you connect with people, not just apps and websites. I went on to the hotel, had a decent salad and beer, plugged my iPhone and iPad in to my dual-device charger, and went to sleep.

The next morning, I arrived back early at O'Hare for my 9:30 a.m. flight. I iPadded away while in the waiting area. As we got to the boarding time, nothing was happening. The gate agent finally said the flight had left late from Milwaukee and would be an hour late. (The airlines never tell you of delays until it's too late to do anything about them.)

But when the plane landed, she said a part had failed and would need to be replaced. After 30 minutes, she announced the part wasn't at the airport and needed to be ordered. Oh no! I thought this plane would never fly. The gate agent suggested we try to get on standby for another flight leaving in 10 minutes or go to customer service and try to rebook -- she of course couldn't do that for us. A dozen people quickly went to try the standby route, so that seemed pointless.

I called my company's travel agency. But because the flight hadn't been canceled, they couldn't rebook me without a cancellation penalty and paying for the new flight at the exorbitant last-minute rates. Sigh. Off to customer service I went, keeping an eye on my flight's status via my iPhone in case the repair actually happened while standing in line with nearly 20 people ahead of me and just two United agents trying to handle them all. I wondered if I'd be in Chicago for a second day.

Then a third customer service agent came by, handing out a special phone number to call for rebooking help -- not the usual reservations number. I knew what that meant, so I called and got someone quickly. I explained I didn't trust they would fix the broken plane in any reasonable time and had already been delayed in Chicago for a day; thus, I wanted a different flight "on a plane that works." The phone agent struggled through her computer system to rebook me -- the fact that my flight hadn't been canceled meant entering all sorts of overrides on her end -- but she made it happen.

Lesson: Use the smartphone to call people, not just access systems.

Travel with both a cellular tablet and smartphone
Because the rebooking was so tricky, the phone agent wanted to make sure I actually got the new ticket, which she sent to me via email. She had to ask me for it; even though I'm in United's notification system, it doesn't connect to the rebooking system.

Uh oh. I use Verizon Wireless for my iPhone, and Verizon hasn't implemented the updated CDMA technology that allows simultaneous use of data and voice (nor has Sprint). I couldn't check my email while talking to her, but if I hung up to check and the email didn't come through, I might not get her back.

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