Did you get a message from the airline that your flight for your upcoming cruise has a new itinerary?
Will you no longer make it to the port of departure in time for embarkation?
You are not alone.
Right now, airlines are working hard to meet an increase in demand from the opening up of travel post-Covid. And sometimes, strikes, staff shortages, and other unplanned events cause airlines to change scheduled flights.
I recently helped guide an unlucky traveler to a favorable solution in an online travel forum. He suggested I share this information, which is why you are reading this article today.
The importance of having a speaking partner
There are different ways to book flights for a cruise holiday.
If you booked your flight with the cruise line, you are in good hands, as the cruise line has a vested interest in getting you on board the cruise ship in time for departure.
If you booked directly with the airline, they probably presented you with a new flight alternative when they notified you about the timetable change. You do not have to accept this offer. They know nothing about cruise embarkation times or other vacation plans. View their suggestion as the start of a dialogue.
If you booked with a reputable travel agent, you are probably working out alternatives with your designated travel consultant. It can be a painful experience, but you will likely find a solution that works.
This is why we always recommend you arrive at your destination a couple of days before your cruise departs. Read one of our guides to cruise ports for ideas on how to make the most of this bonus time.
But then we have the scenario where you, like many others, wanted to spend less on flights as it is only transportation.
If you booked via a third party online, this may have been the first time you booked a ticket on their website. When this third-party service provider receives a timetable change from the airline, they may offer you a refund instead of presenting an alternative solution.
When a refund in full is not a good solution
But wait a minute, you say. I booked early on your website to get that great airfare. Tickets cost way more now.
Still, there seems to be no willingness to start a dialogue, and you lose hope.
Having worked in the travel industry for many years, I have faced timetable and itinerary changes more times than I care to remember.
Timetable changes are common in the travel industry, but most go unnoticed by travelers as they are minor and have no real bearing on the trip.
Still, to keep up with the sheer volume of changes, we had dedicated staff supporting travelers affected by timetable or itinerary changes.
How to fix an itinerary or timetable change affecting your travel plans
First, always remain calm and polite even if you are the only adult in the conversation.
Polite does, however, not mean agreeable or soft. You need to be firm and stand your ground. You do have the right to expect service and assistance.
Here is what I would do.
Step 1: Contact the third-party service provider (again)
You do have rights, and a third-party service provider should offer to find a solution for you.
A skilled third-party service provider can access most of the available flight options, including those with airline alliance partners.
Your service provider should present you with possible solutions and then seek authorization from the airline to make the change without incurring a fine.
It is their job to be proactive, present the airline with a good option, and seek authorization on your behalf.
If this fails, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Advice third-party service provider that you will contact the airline directly
If the service provider fails to assist you, inform them you will contact the airline directly.
Explain that you have no other choice, as it is clear that they are refusing to assist. Ask for their IATA number if not printed on the e-ticket.
If they fail to provide a reasonable solution, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Contact the airline directly
If your service provider still does not care, call the airline, as they are ultimately the carrier that will transport you.
Be polite but firm, and remember that they know nothing about the drama you have gone through in steps 1 and 2.
And yes, the airline can assist you even if you booked via a third-party service provider. But it is not “how the process is supposed to work.”
It is the same as re-booking you at the airport on the day of departure if there is a mechanical error or a strike. The airline simply has to take control of your reservation and make the change on your behalf.
From my experience, airlines offer good support. Airlines are in the service industry and want to help as it makes problems disappear. Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course. But from my experience, the major network carriers look after their customers.
What about the cost?
If there is a cost from the airline, it would surprise me, as it is not a customer-initiated change.
But check the terms and conditions, as some third-party service providers charge service fees to cover the cost of their time, not the cost of the change itself (which should be free of charge when not initiated by you).
I did all this, but the airline did not help me
No one can guard against unforeseen problems. But as travelers, we can ensure we are savvy and well-informed when we book. Here are three scenarios where airlines may have difficulties assisting you.
1. The “unicorn fare”
Have you ever heard the expression about something being too good to be true?
Sometimes this happens with airfares. And low unicorn airfares are great if you are planning a backpacking adventure with lots of time on your hands. But it can be risky if you are going on a cruise vacation.
These cheap fares may only be scheduled to run once or twice a week, and if there are no earlier flights, the airline has no options.
If you still want to grab that fantastic price, ensure that the airline offers at least a daily departure to your destination and that you are booking with an airline with 24/7 international support lines.
2. The lone ranger airline
Not all airlines work well together. Some airlines, often called low-cost airlines, do not have alliance partners. They are a network all by themselves.
Booking with an airline with no alliance partners gives you access to that one airline’s flights when you need to re-book.
On the other hand, suppose you have a timetable change with Delta. In that case, you are part of an alliance with other reputable airlines like Air France, KLM, Virgin Atlantic (transatlantic), and China Eastern and Korean Air (transpacific).
This scenario will, of course, present you with more available re-booking options.
If you still decide to book with a lone ranger airline, look at your options before booking if something goes wrong.
3. When you were too optimistic
Airlines are service providers who will always seek to solve problems quickly. They want good reviews, and happy customers are a part of their business model.
Still, there are situations where not even the airline can assist you.
Did you book a same-day arrival for a cruise departing in the afternoon? Did you forget to check the visa or entry requirements for your destination?
Sometimes there is no way for the airline to assist. Strikes, mechanical errors, and weather patterns are just the tip of the iceberg of things that can go wrong.
If you are planning a cruise vacation, your flight is a minor part of the holiday experience. And for most of us, it is the least enjoyable part.
Be kind to yourself and arrive at your port of departure a couple of days before the cruise departs. You will get two holidays instead of one, and a quick look at our cruise port guides will show you that there are things to do to fit all budgets.
A final note on travel insurance
First, travel insurance is complicated, and I am not qualified to recommend any specific provider.
A cruise holiday is a joyful experience, but it is vital to remember that unexpected events can happen. And this is why you should always travel with good travel insurance coverage.
For example, I worked through the 2010 air travel disruption following Iceland’s 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption. I can attest to the fact that not all insurance companies are equal.
Airspace was closed, and there were no solutions. Did I mention the importance of travel insurance? Please do your homework and ensure you are comfortable with your coverage before you need it.
I am sorry for ending this article on such a low note. But as we all know, when we do our homework before we leave, we have more fun on location!