If you travel by plane, I recommend you incorporate this website into your travel planning: http://www.flightstats.com/.
Let me explain why. Each year, my wife and I take a “couple only” vacation. This year, we took advantage of a sale on NWA to Germany, snagging roundtrip tickets from Rapid City to Munich for $525. Of course, the downside of traveling to Europe right now is that everything costs double what it did eight years ago. Gas is $9 a gallon, a cheap hotel room is $200 a night, and the simplest meal of franks, kraut, and beer at a communal restaurant will set you back $20. Add soup, bread, and a slice of apple strudel and you’ll easily hit $35.
But I digress. Taking my own advice from previous columns on traveling, we scheduled our return on a Friday, which gave us the whole weekend to get back if we encountered any flight delays. While our outbound flights went off without a hitch, the same was not true of our return home. This is where FlightStats enters the picture.
Prior to leaving on our trip, I had registered our departing and returning flights with FlightStats. This nifty little site will keep you up to date with the status of all your flights. You can set it to notify you (by phone or email) of delays or cancellations of your flights, and even of connecting flights. Based on my experience of using the site for the past year, FlightStats will alert you of delays and cancellations long before the airline’s email or phone system will, giving you a significant jump over your fellow travelers to snag limited seats on later flights.
What’s even more impressive is that, by using FlightStats, you will know of flight delays and cancellations even before the airline’s reservation or gate agents. This can be frustrating. Take this trip as an example. While we were eating a leisurely breakfast in preparation for our noon flight out of Munich, I received an email on my cell phone from FlightStats indicating our flight had been cancelled. One hour later, I called the airlines—twice—and was told the flight definitely was not cancelled and that the FlightStats notification was in error.
We packed up our belongings and made the long train trip to the airport, only to find out at the ticket counter that, shock of all shocks, our flight was cancelled. As it turned out, my error was believing the airline’s reservation agent and not the FlightStats email. Since this was the first time I had received a FlightStats cancellation while in Europe, I succumbed to the agent’s reasoning that the email was in error. In the future, I won’t be so naive and will insist that the agent do more to verify the cancellation.
This wasn’t the first time I knew more about a cancelled flight than a reservation agent. I’ve actually had gate agents announce the cancellation of a flight, called the airline reservation agent to rebook, and been told the flight was showing no cancellation and therefore they could not help me. I had to call repeatedly for what felt like an eternity (probably about 10 minutes) before the flight cancellation appeared in the reservation agent’s computer.
You may be wondering how it’s possible that a third party vendor can know of flight cancellations before the airline’s agents. That same thought has crossed my mind many times. One would think in this world of high tech that an airline could know of its own flight cancellations before its customers do.
Maybe they should think seriously about subscribing to FlightStats.