We're planning a plane trip over the holidays and know that flying can generate high stress. What should I be prepared for and what is available for resolution? -- Peter Passenger
Dear Mr. Passenger: You're correct. A hectic schedule can be the least of your worries, but always expect the unexpected and know what to do to dig your way out of that pickle. You do have options to help (and, in fact, even the airlines must come to your rescue in several episodes). For example:
* Know your rights: If you're stranded overnight by anything other than an act of God, the airline is required to put you up for the night and feed you to boot. Go to www.flyersrights.org to check out other avenues. (If your flight is canceled, the airline must offer money for that flight. The airline will probably try to give you a voucher for future travel but hold out for cold, hard cash.)
* Carry your own bags: If you must check a bag, you stand a better than average chance you'll miss that luggage when you rush to make a connecting flight, especially if traveling out of the country.
And for heaven's sake, don't check your pet. Always carry the little critter.
* Be very nice and polite. Gate agents face angry, antagonistic passengers every day so the person who is nice stands a better chance of standing out and getting good care. These agents are all-powerful and have the wherewithal to re-route you to where you wish to go (and maybe where you don't.)
* Show up early: An hour is standard for a domestic flight. And remember, airlines always overbook and, if you're late, you might get bumped with no compensation.
* Get alerts on your cell phone. Sign up before you leave for the airport. Always carry the toll-free number of the airline and airport-area hotels so you can make other arrangements as you stand in line. Remember what the early bird catches.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday. Email her at consumer email@example.com.