5 Lessons Learned from My Travel Disaster
This past summer I went on an amazing two week road trip throughout Europe. If you kept up with my trip recap series, you would have seen mostly highlight reels of beautiful buildings, historical monuments, selfies, and gorgeous city views. But, the reality is traveling isn't always as glamorous as pictures suggest. While my trip ran relatively seamless, my travel back home was a DISASTER!
Here's a run-through of my 30+ hour nightmare journey home from Warsaw to North Carolina and the 5 lessons I learned along the way:
1. Don't be cheap with your travel insurance.
One week prior to my departure home, Aeroflot Airlines notified me by phone that my flight was canceled and they rescheduled me. However, this flight would have caused me to miss my two connecting flights. I called Aeroflot to learn about other options. The only option that would allow me to make my connections would require me to leave a day early and have an overnight stay in Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) in Moscow. They told me I'd have a hotel room, that they would handle the room reservation when I arrived and assured me that I didn't need to reserve a room in advance.
Before I committed to this plan I called my travel Insurance company, Roam Flight, to see what they could do for me. Ideally, I'd book a flight that allowed me to stay the full duration of the trip and make my connection from New York City to North Carolina. This is where the tip comes in: Don't be cheap with your travel insurance.
For $27, I purchased the following policy:
I've learned the hard way it's important to get a good trip cancellation policy, so that's what I focused on when buying my insurance. However; according to Roam Right, my situation classified as a trip delay, not a cancellation and my benefit limit wasn't enough to buy another flight. So I had no choice but to leave a day early and take the flight to SVO. Fortunately, due to the flexible nature of my road trip, this flight change didn't interrupt my trip too much.
In the future, I will spend more money on travel insurance to have a higher trip delay benefit and cover my bases.*
*Stay tuned for a future post on how to choose good travel insurance.
2. Have your allergies translated into the languages of the places you will visit in advance.
During my flight from Warsaw to Moscow, I told the flight attendant that I had a peanut allergy and asked if the sandwich they provided had peanuts. He read the (Russian) label and said "no". Luckily for me, the woman next to me took a bite out of her sandwich and told me it does in fact have nuts! Then the flight attendant rereads and agrees ::major side eye to him::.
Rather than having my health be at the mercy of flight attendants, in the future I will print out my nut allergy in the language of the places I'm visiting so that I can be able to identify it in labels myself.
3. In the event of an overnight stay in the airport, insist on reserving your hotel room in advance.
Two hours and one missed anaphylactic attack later, I arrive in SVO at midnight. I was exhausted and looking forward to a good sleep in a hotel bed. I went to the international transfer booth to arrange my hotel and the representative said there weren’t any rooms available due to a storm that caused a lot of flight cancellations. The representative also told me no, there wasn't a lounge, and that I'd have to sleep on the chairs. He did, however, change my afternoon flight to NYC to a morning flight and gave me two meal vouchers.
I ended up discovering the business class lounge and paid for it, knowing that I would get either Aeroflot or my travel insurance to reimburse me. It was $54 for 4 hours, but I was comfortable and had unlimited food and drinks. Aeroflot finally reimbursed me after two months of correspondence with them. I think this could have all been avoided if I had insisted on reserving my hotel room in advance.
4. If you lose your luggage file a lost baggage claim at your final destination.
When I was in Warsaw, I requested my luggage be sent to Moscow so that I could have it with me in the hotel. When I was at the international transfer kiosk at SVO, I asked whether or not I had to recheck my luggage (as I have done in other countries) the representative said "no", and he called someone to tell them to transfer it.
At noon I arrived at JFK and awaited my bags with the hope of catching an earlier fight to NC than the scheduled departure time of 8pm. After 45 minutes of unloading baggage, the baggage carousel stopped and mine wasn’t there! After running around for 30 minutes trying to figure out where to file a claim and about 20 minutes waiting in line for the Aeroflot representative, I was told I had to open up the claim at my final destination, North Carolina. My domestic flight was with Delta, so I filed a claim with them at 1:30am when I finally arrived at RDU.
The representative at RDU gave me my tracking information and my luggage arrived 48 hours later on my doorstep with everything in tact. I could have saved a lot of time (and possibly caught an earlier flight) if I had known that I needed to open up my baggage claim at my final destination.
5. Regardless of your airline, you can only do standby for flights at the airport of your issued ticket.
Despite my original ticket flying with Delta from LGA, I was already in JFK, sick of traveling, and desperately wanting to get home. So I inquired about getting on standby in JFK.
When I went to speak to Delta’s special services to inquire about switching to an earlier flight, I learn that since my ticket is from LGA, if they put me on standby at JFK it would invalidate my LGA ticket. They advised against this and suggested that I go to LGA and try to get on standby there.
Given the delays (this happened to be during a major Delta power outage that caused hundreds of delays and cancellations), the Delta's special services line at LGA was long and they were extremely understaffed. I got put on the standby list for the next flight but didn’t end up getting on - I was literally next on the standby list. I couldn't help but think "had I known about the lost luggage and standby policies in advance, I would have gotten to LGA earlier, been higher on the standby list, and home sooner".
Although it was absolutely painful to go through this, especially while traveling alone, I'm grateful for the lessons learned in those rough moments. And now I hope that these tips can help mitigate future travel related stress for you.
Do you have any travel disaster stories? What were your lessons learned?