Weekend Wisdom: Flight Protection When Things Go Bad


On Monday I was scheduled to fly home on a short-hop Delta flight paid for with 5,000 SkyMiles. As I’m sure you can figure out from the post’s title, that didn’t really go as planned. The short story is that my aircraft had big dent in the airframe from the inbound flight to the airport. Delta posted an initial delay of an hour right when we were getting ready to board.

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s dealing with IROPS when traveling. If there’s another thing I’m good at, it’s making the best steel cut oats based breakfast bowl that you’ve ever had, but why would you care about that? Let’s stay on topic people!

I have a cardinal rule when it comes to flight delays:

If the delay posted is an hour or longer, you need to have a backup option in place.

The moment the delay was announced, and I mean that very moment, I speed-walked to the SkyClub to avoid any lines at the gate, and simultaneously I made a call to Delta Reservations in case they’d come back more quickly than the SkyClub (spoiler alert: they didn’t). When I got to the SkyClub, I scanned my boarding pass and asked immediately to be “protected on the next flight” to my destination. The agent was able to do that in about 15 seconds.

Flight Protection

What is flight protection? It’s when an airline holds a seat for you on another flight without giving up your seat on your original flight. Then you’ve got the option to take either flight, whichever departs first. With most airlines, you can select a seat on both flights and you’ll be on the upgrade list for both flights too if you’re eligible.

All you have to do to get protected on the next flight is to know how to ask. And asking is as simple as “My current flight is delayed. Would you please protect me on the next flight to XXX?”

Caveat: Some airlines will cancel any remaining flights on your itinerary if you miss a flight (I’m looking at you United, the only airline that’s screwed me multiple times with this), so after I scan my boarding pass on whichever flight departs first, I double check to make sure that the other flight drops out of my itinerary in the airline’s mobile app. If it doesn’t, then I ask the gate agent or another employee to take it off of the itinerary so the rest of my flights don’t auto-cancel.

My Conclusion

As you’d probably guess, a dented airframe is more than an hour long fix. Delta ended up flying in another plane and crew to operate the flight, and it departed 6 hours and 5 minutes past the original schedule which is frankly pretty good for an event like this at a non-hub. I was already home and on my couch by the time that original flight departed though — I got there via the protected flight.

Bonus: Delta proactively gave me 7,500 SkyMiles for the delayed flight without me contacting them, making that ticket a 1.5x SkyMiles earner. If only I could replicate that at scale.

It’ll prolly buff out, right?

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