BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS

8 Common Air-Travel Snafus (And How to Beat Them)

From missing your flight to losing your passport, flying can be full of nasty surprises. Check out Budget Travel's insider tips for coping with, and avoiding, these headaches.

Why it matters: Consider how flight attendants on a recent Horizon Air flight forced a six-foot-nine-inch-tall passenger to leave a plane because his legs were blocking the aisle. The airline later apologized, saying it should have instead had the flier trade seats with another passenger in the roomier exit row. Plus-size passengers have also been in the news in recent years: Airlines increasingly insist that passengers who can't fit in a seat with a seatbelt extender buy an additional seat.

How to deal: When you have trouble fitting in your seat, ask a flight attendant if he or she could arrange for a swap between you and another passenger who may have more legroom or free space on either side.

Trick to avoid the problem: Check in online 24 hours prior to departure and select a seat assignment in the roomy exit row. If that's not possible, call the airline, explain your problem, and buy an adjacent seat. Insider tip: If you do buy a second ticket, ask the gate agent what your airline's policy is on refunding the price of the spare seat if it turns out that you can sit comfortably without it—some airlines will reimburse the cost if they have made a note ahead of time in the reservations system.

YOUR LUGGAGE, OR SOMETHING INSIDE, IS DAMAGED

Your suitcase isn't insured by the airline for wear and tear. But if something inside your bag is damaged, it may be covered.

Why it matters: On domestic flights, a passenger can recover up to $3,300 for damaged or lost contents of luggage. Liability on most international flights is less, strangely enough, at about $1,500 a passenger.

How to deal: Report a claim within 24 hours, or else you may lose your chance to file for reimbursement. Be prepared to itemize your belongings.

Trick to avoid the problem: Never pack anything fragile or difficult to replace in your checked luggage. For instance, airlines almost never cover jewelry or electronics. Even breakable items such as musical instruments that aren't packed in hard-sided cases are usually not covered by U.S. airlines. Just ask Dave Carroll, the musician who made a famous YouTube video about how his guitar was damaged to the tune of $1,200 by United baggage handlers. Insider tip: If your bag's contents are critical, ship them by a service such as FedEx or UPS. Because of rising checked-baggage fees, major shipping services are increasingly competitive in their rates. Just be sure to call your hotel first to make sure it will accept your package for delivery without charging a fee.

YOU LOSE YOUR PASSPORT

Perhaps you got pickpocketed or lost your day pack. Either way, your passport has gone the way of your cash and credit cards. Talk about headaches.

Why it matters: Without a U.S. passport, you won't be able to return to the country. (Vacations are nice, but who wants to become an accidental expat?)

How to deal: Passports can often be issued at a U.S. embassy on the same day if you can prove your identity (the U.S. Department of State has a full list of embassies and consulate offices around the world). Of course, it's hard to prove your identity when your wallet—and everything in it—is MIA. The best first step in this situation is to go to a police station to get a statement declaring your situation. Take this statement to the embassy, and they should be able to retrieve your information in their system. You will need to pay a fee (around $135) to replace your passport.

Trick to avoid the problem: Stash your passport in a hotel safe or stuff it in a security pouch, such as the Rick Steves Silk Money Belt, which you can wear under your clothes (from $10, Amazon). Insider tip: Before you depart, sign up for the U.S. Department of State's free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Store your passport number and other details in its online database, making it easy for you to receive emergency assistance from a U.S. embassy or consulate during an emergency. Alternatively, e-mail a scan of your passport to yourself at a Web-based account, which you can access if you lose your passport and you need to look up its number and issue date to request a new one.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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