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For many travelers this summer, American Airlines hasn’t been the most reliable airline.
The world’s largest airline prior to the pandemic has canceled thousands of flights since Memorial Day amidst a hasty summer ramp-up that left countless summer travelers in the lurch. A combination of overscheduling and a flight crew shortage left the airline struggling to meet its on-time obligations, especially when bad weather struck.
I personally swore I’d avoid flying American after two canceled flights left me almost stranded in Bogotá, Colombia. But as I soon found, avoiding American wasn’t that easy for a New Yorker flying between two of the airline’s hubs or overseas.
Read More: American will lose its crown as the biggest US airline and could fall behind Delta and United as it struggles to pay off $38 billion in debt
I’m flying the airline from New York to Madrid, Spain on the first leg of a Middle East itinerary. Here’s how I’m prepping to ensure American doesn’t get the best of me again.
I’m flying from New York to Doha, Qatar via Madrid with the first leg on American and the second on Qatar Airways. Before I even arrived at the airport, I’ll know exactly what time the next flights to both Madrid and Doha leave New York so that I can move quickly to be rebooked on either should American delay or cancel my flight.
And because American partners with Iberia, British Airways, and Qatar Airways, among other airlines, I’ll have a pretty good shot at getting a seat. But I don’t want to leave my rebooking options in the hands of an agent.
Rather, I’ll know exactly what backup options there are and suggest the flights so that I’m in control. There also happens to be a non-stop flight to Doha leaving just under four hours after my original flight, and if that doesn’t work out then I can try for British Airways through London or Royal Jordanian through Amman, Jordan, among other possibilities.
Planning for the worst, I’ve found, helps hedge against panic and stress in uncontrollable situations. It’s the airline’s job to get me where I need to go but I can help speed that along while keeping my sanity at the same time.
This tip can also be applied when flying any airline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proper preparation can help ensure success as flight schedules are constantly changing and many airlines have a reduced ability to recover from irregular events such as storms or mechanical troubles.
Having a plan, however, is only the first step. Next comes its execution.
I won’t likely be able to just go on my phone and change my own flights in the event something goes wrong. So when I get to the airport, the first thing I’ll do after going through the security checkpoint and having a bit of lunch at the newly-reopened Priority Pass restaurant in the American terminal is find where the airline’s customer service centers are.
This is where agents can assist with rebooking in the event something goes wrong. And as there’s almost always a long line when flights get canceled, being quick to get there first is essential.
I plan to stay as close as possible before boarding just in case I get the dreaded delay or cancellation notification to which I’ve become accustomed when flying American.
Hold times have been markedly longer during the pandemic and calling an airline can now be an all-day affair.
To avoid having to wait on hold, I’ll call American around seven hours before my flight to see what the hold times are like. If they’re greater than say, six hours, I’ll use the callback feature to get in line.
That way, if anything goes wrong with my flight before departure and I can’t get to a customer service center, I’ll have a place in the reservations phone line.
It’s not exactly scientific and requires a bit of luck but it’s a good backup.
And at the very first sign of trouble, I’ll jump on Twitter to send American a direct message since that can be quicker than waiting on hold. The airline also has a chat function on its mobile application that may prove expedient.
I normally like to arrive at the airport around an hour before a flight’s departure so that I can arrive at the gate just as boarding begins. Being enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program allows me to do this.
But as this is an international flight on American, I want to get to the airport at least four hours before departure. Again, it might prove to be unnecessary but better safe than sorry.
I was chatting with a fellow traveler on the first JetBlue Airways flight to London in mid-August who told me that he missed his American flight from New York to Madrid because it took so long to get checked in, even though he arrived early.
It will mean waiting around after security but I’ll have my laptop to get some work done and I can use my credit card perk to get a free meal.
Verifly is American’s health passport of choice and allows travelers to upload their required documents for international travel. For Spain, all I need to do is scan the QR code from the country’s health control form.
Using Verifly can also be a “skip the line” tool at some of its airports. In Bogotá, American’s check-in counters had dedicated lines for Verifly users, and I’m expecting it to be similar at the airline’s John F. Kennedy International Airport hub in New York.
But even still, I’m still planning to get to the airport earlier than necessary in case there is a wait at check-in.
Some travel credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum Card, have built-in travel insurance that can be used in the event of delays or cancellations.
My Sapphire Reserve, for example, will allow me to spend $500 on incidentals and other expenses if my flight is delayed more than six hours or requires an overnight stay. I used the perk when taking American in June and it saved me $127 in expenses.
Other perks include baggage delay reimbursement in case I have to check my bag and it gets lost, as well as trip interruption/cancellation insurance in the event I get sick or there’s bad weather that impacts my trip.
I can also use the Priority Pass perk of this card to go to a lounge or restaurant. It’s the perfect perk for waiting out a delay, for example.
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