As frequent flyers know, things can go wrong with even the most well-planned out travel itineraries. You could get grounded due to a snowstorm or miss a connecting flight. When these things happen, your best advocate will be a competent customer service agent, but those are the rarest breed in the customer service industry. In order to help you navigate the tricky airline customer service world, we’ve put together this guide so that your next flight snafu doesn’t turn into a major meltdown.


Before Your Flight

Your customer service experience will hinge entirely on which company employs the agents. Typically, third-party sites (like Expedia or Priceline) are a better bet because they offer another level of customer service. If you book directly through your airline and they can offer no assistance, you’re stuck. But if you book through a 3rd party company, they have a whole other team of customer care reps that can try to fix your problem. Not to mention that since these companies have relationships with the airlines, they have more clout to fix your problem than if you called personally. If you do choose to book directly with the airline, research their customer service satisfaction because there is a noticeable difference between the way you’ll be treated by a company like JetBlue vs. a company such as United.

You’ll also want to be proactive to make your trip a success and arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before international flights and at least 60 minutes before domestic departures. Yes, that may equate to more time in the dreaded airport but it still beats the chance of hitting unexpected traffic and missing your flight. With that said, should any unforeseen circumstance happen that causes you to miss your flight (such as a flat tire,) there is a policy in place called the “2-hour rule” that allows passengers to fly standby if you arrive within 2 hours after your original flight’s departure time.


Once You’ve Arrived at the Airport

If you have arrived at the airport to find that your flight was canceled and you have access to a lounge, head there immediately instead of standing in the agonizing line at the main terminal. You’ll have access to agents that tend to be a little friendlier and more importantly, who can get your problem resolved in much less time. Also, knowledge is power: there is a ‘secret’ in the airline world called ‘Rule 240.’ If your flight is canceled due to a mechanical issue, you’re entitled to travel on the next available flight for no extra cost. Granted, there needs to be availability, but all carriers are required to adhere to this rule. And if you do run into any problems, document what you can. You’ll want to get the names of agents you spoke to and their responses as well as any confirmation numbers you’re given. 


If You Need to Call Customer Service

Before you even pick up the phone, make sure you’re prepared. Have all of your documentation in front of you and figure out what you’ll accept as a resolution so there’s no ambiguity when you lay everything out for the agent. When you make your call, try to remain calm and always be polite. These customer service agents deal with plenty of angry people throughout the day. Whatever your issue may be, starting off any conversation with a nice tone will get you farther than the person who calls yelling. Sometimes the agent can’t help you, though, no matter how nice you are. If that’s the case, hang up and try calling again and speaking to a new agent. Sometimes a more knowledgeable or empathetic representative can make a big difference in getting your desired outcome. 


Taking it Further

If you have a serious issue and it can’t be resolved via a customer service representative, try reaching out to the airline’s ‘executive customer care team‘ at their headquarters or even going as far as e-mailing the CEO directly. Nobody likes negative feedback, so if you make it known that you’re going to write a negative review of your experience, the executives will often do whatever they can to placate you. And in this day and age, one of the best ways to reach out to a company is through social media. If you have been treated unfairly, and you take to Twitter to air your grievances, you can often get a very fast response since the airline wants to minimize any bad publicity.