We've all been there. You arrive at the airport excited to jet off to a new destination and your flight is delayed. You get to your hotel only to realize it's overbooked and your room isn't available. You're exploring a new city when you get back to your lodgings and realize your passport is missing. These travel snafus can be frustrating, but they can also be remedied. U.S. News Travel has scoured some handy resources and come up with the best solutions to help you deal with six common travel woes.
Flight Delays or Cancellations
Did you know? In July, 2013, more than 1 in 4 flights in the U.S. were late, delayed or canceled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Before you leave for the airport, check this Federal Aviation Administration map for information regarding delays at major airports. You can also search by region for information on smaller airports. With this resource, you can anticipate any complications to your itinerary and try to get rebooked on a different flight, if necessary. If your flight is stalled because of local weather conditions, all flights will likely encounter delays so there's not much you or the airline can do. Meanwhile, if your flight is delayed because your plane is late or your flight is canceled, act quickly. Contact your airline's reservation center to see about getting rebooked on the next available flight to your final destination. You can also inquire if another carrier has space and ask if your airline will make the change without a fee. Also, consider an alternate route to reach your final destination.
In the U.S., policies differ by air carrier on how to accommodate stranded passengers, but there are no federal requirements in place. If your flight is delayed, you can ask the airline for food vouchers to cover a meal, though the air carrier is not obligated to provide this amenity. Europe is a different story, altogether. The European Union's passenger rights law states that if your flight (arriving in the EU or departing from the EU) is delayed five hours or longer, you should receive a refund; if you accept the refund, the airline is not required to assist you further. If you arrive at your final destination more than three hours later than your scheduled arrival time, you may be able to collect compensation of $330 to $810, depending on the distance flown.
And what happens if you miss your flight? If you're on the way to the airport, call your airline; if you just arrived, proceed to the airline desk; and if you missed a connection, talk to a gate agent. Some carriers follow a "flat tire" or "two-hour" rule. Typically, if you encounter traffic or another obstacle that causes you to miss your flight but you arrive at the airport no later than two hours after the flight's departure time, you can be rebooked on standby for free or for a minimal fee. Another tip: No matter how frustrated you may be, always be kind to the gate agent.
Did you know? The hotel industry made $39 billion in pretax income in 2012, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Hotels, similar to airlines, tend to oversell rooms to account for no-shows and cancellations, so even if you have a reservation your room may not be guaranteed. Try to time your trip so you arrive right around check-in; the later you reach your hotel, the more likely it is to be overbooked. If a property has bigger or better rooms available, the hotel staff will usually attempt to situate you in the higher category room free of charge. If a lower category room is vacant, they'll downgrade you and tweak the rate. If there are no rooms available in the hotel, industry practice is to "walk a guest" to a nearby hotel of "equal or better" quality and cover the rate of the first night's stay. You can avoid being relocated by booking directly on the hotel's website and not on a third-party site like Priceline or Orbitz. Signing up for a hotel's loyalty program will come in handy here, too: Rewards program members are less likely to be bumped to a different hotel.
Did you know? More than 200,000 bags were reported to be mishandled by U.S. airlines in July 2013 alone, according to the Department of Transportation.
A precaution you should always take before checking your luggage is making sure your contact information is legible and visible on the outside of your bag. You should also put an identification tag or business card inside your bag in case anything happens to the outside tag. Also, consider tying a wide, brightly colored or uniquely patterned ribbon around the handle to distinguish your suitcase from others. Beyond the physical appearance of your bag, you can also safeguard against lost luggage by booking with an airline that has a reputable track record. According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, Virgin America, JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines received the fewest reports of mishandled luggage through the first half of 2013.
If you arrive at the carousel and don't see your bags, one of a few things may have happened. Your routing label could have been damaged, your bag might have been placed on the incorrect plane or maybe it wasn't transferred with your connection. The first step is to talk to the representatives at your airline's luggage counter. Give them all your information, including your flight number, your departure airport, the number of bags missing and your corresponding luggage stubs given to you at check-in. Airlines usually can track and deliver your luggage to you within 24 to 48 hours, but if your luggage is permanently lost you'll need to file a bag claim detailing everything in your suitcase and its approximate cost. (Airlines are able to reimburse you up to $3,300 per bag, according to the Department of Transportation.) Of course the best way to avoid this problem (and any checked bag fees) is to pack light and fit everything you need into a carry-on.
Health Concerns While Abroad
Did you know? Injuries cause 23 percent of deaths of U.S. citizens while traveling abroad, while infectious diseases account for 2 percent of travelers' deaths abroad, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Whether it's a bout with food poisoning, a more serious case of malaria or a broken bone, getting sick or hurt while you're traveling is a concern for any jet-setter, so you should always be prepared. Bring your health insurance card and a claim form with you, along with any medications you take regularly in their original packaging. Many U.S.-based health insurance plans do not cover trips to foreign doctors or hospitals, so you may have to pay up front before receiving foreign treatment or you may have to pay in cash before you depart the country you're visiting. Some countries don't even offer full services to tourists. To avoid any potential problems, consider purchasing a short-term health insurance plan. Some examples of providers include IMG, which offers several different plan options, and Travel Guard, which features a 24-hour customer service help line among other services. You can also check www.insuremytrip.com to search for the company, policy and price that's right for you, as well as read reviews from other travelers.
If you do become sick or injured, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. That way, officials can direct you to the nearest medical facility and notify your family and friends. Keep in mind that some destinations are more prone to disease or dangerous activity, so be sure to pick your destination wisely. Check the State Department's website for safety alerts before you travel. You can also consult the CDC's online travel section for the latest information on vaccines and recent outbreaks across the globe.
[See: Best Travel Apps Under $3]
Lost or Stolen Passport or Wallet
Did you know? There are more than 113 million valid U.S. passports in circulation today, according to the U.S. Department of State.
First, don't panic. Whether your passport accidentally fell out of your purse or you were the victim of a pickpocket, these things happen. As soon as you realize you are no longer in possession of your passport, contact the nearest United States embassy or consulate and get in touch with the Department of State by calling 1-877-487-2778. It's important to act fast in this situation since you must have a valid passport for entry back into the U.S.
If you believe your passport or wallet was stolen, you should file a police report with local authorities. This way, police can be on the lookout for any individuals who may be trying to use it for illicit travel. To replace your passport, you'll need a photo, some sort of government-issued identification or evidence of your U.S. citizenship (like a driver's license, birth certificate or copy of your original passport), a travel itinerary and your police report (if available), and you'll have to fill out a few forms at the embassy or consulate. If your wallet is stolen, cancel all your cards immediately.
Before you even depart for your vacation destination, there are a few things you can do to stay prepared in case of an incident like this. Leave your passport and photocopies of your credit cards in the hotel safe while you're out and about, and only carry a photocopy of your passport with you while exploring. Be sure to alert your credit card companies and your bank if you'll be traveling abroad; this will make it easier to wire money or deposit funds into your account if necessary.
Run-ins with the Law
Did you know? More than a third of Americans jailed in foreign countries are held on charges related to drugs, according to the State Department.
The most common reasons Americans are arrested or detained in foreign countries are for drug violations (some prescription drugs and medicines obtained legally in the U.S. are illegal abroad), the possession of firearms, photography and buying antiques. Penalties for committing a crime abroad can vastly differ from those in the U.S. For example, firearms possession can carry sentences of up to 30 years in some countries, while taking photos of government buildings or transportation facilities can result in a traveler's detainment. If you buy souvenirs or trinkets, make sure to save your proof of purchase. Some items that look like authentic antiques can be mistaken for national treasures by law enforcement.
Avoid any accidental violations by familiarizing yourself with the laws of the regions you're visiting. The U.S. Department of State's website offers country-specific information regarding crimes and penalties. If you are arrested, the State Department is a vital resource. Government entities work with prison officials to make sure U.S. citizens are treated fairly and will provide any legal aid possible. Additionally, signing up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program before you travel to a foreign country will allow U.S. officials to better assist you with any emergency situation. But remember, according to the State Department, "if arrested abroad, a citizen must go through the foreign legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, possibly convicted and sentenced, and for any appeals process."
[In Pictures: 6 Common Travel Setbacks]
-- Erin K. Shields