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Persistence (sometimes) pays, even with the airlines

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The last couple of years I’ve experienced a disheartening increase in delayed or canceled airline flights that have made me miss connections. They pile on extra hours of travel before I reach my final destination. At least I’ve learned that polite persistence can lead to some perks that make up (at least a little) for the inconvenience and give me back some sense of control.

When the agent delivers the bad news about the flight, I run down my wish list. Upgrade to business class? Better seat in coach? Free meal? I remain polite, but I never take the first “no” as a final answer.

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For example, when my connecting flight from Dallas to Albuquerque was canceled, a gate agent booked me onto a flight leaving six hours later. She was very sorry that the airline never gave vouchers so that passengers could get a meal while waiting. When I noticed that the family in front of me in line had received vouchers, I had plenty of time to seek out a supervisor and ask for clarification on airline policy. I never did get an explanation — but I did get a coupon to use in any of the airport’s restaurants. The green chili chicken tamales at Pappasito’s Cantina at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport proved to be the highlight of the day. And I learned an important lesson: Ask the right person.

I put this hard-won knowledge to use a few months later when I arrived at Honolulu International to discover that the departure of my flight was delayed and I would miss my midnight connection in Phoenix. Moreover, I had been rebooked on a long and circuitous route back to Boston.

The desk agent was very sorry that she didn’t have the authority to seat me in an emergency exit row and told me to call the airline’s toll-free number. It was a brushoff, if I’ve ever heard one. Instead I asked her supervisor when he came to check on the long line of disgruntled travelers. He hit a couple of keys on the computer and my request was granted. The extra legroom offered some consolation for the extra hours in the air.

I haven’t scored that business class seat yet. But somehow I suspect that more delays — and more opportunities — are in my future.

Patricia Harris can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

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