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ON THE SPOT By Catharine Hamm

Nonstop joy

September 16, 2007|Catharine Hamm

Question: Our recent flight to Cleveland, which had a layover in Chicago, was delayed five hours. We were on a tight schedule, so we asked to be put on another flight. A Continental representative found a flight for us on United, which worked out fine. When we tried to check in to return home, we discovered that we had been bumped off the flight. An agent told us that when we missed our originally scheduled connection from Chicago to Cleveland, the computers automatically canceled the rest of our flight itinerary. Is there any way this situation could have been averted?

Mike Nakauchi

North Hollywood

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Answer: Yes. Take a nonstop.

Price and schedule figured in Nakauchi's decision to take this less-expensive connecting flight, he told me later. These days, you can fly someplace cheaply or you can get there on time, but you often can't do both.

If you're leaning toward connecting, study on-time performance for the airport you'll be sprinting through ( www.transtats.bts.gov/ airports.asp) before you punch that buy-it button.

About a third of Chicago O'Hare's domestic flights ran late from August 2006 to July of this year, and the average delay was more than an hour, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics report issued this month. As you decide whether to play those odds, be sure to factor in the weather around the Windy City.

"Chicago gets more than its share of severe weather," said Randy Cerveny, the president's professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University. "During the late spring and early summer, the kinds of storms that produce severe weather that have tornadoes and strong winds are moving from west to east, from the Rockies eastward, and quite often will hit the area around Chicago and southward."

Still feeling like Shirley Sunshine? Then book that connecting flight. If you're a realist, there's one more item on the list of Things You Never Knew You Had to Do.

When making any changes to an itinerary -- even if it's not your fault and you're in the hands of an airline professional -- make sure you check on your return flight because if you miss a leg of your flight -- even if it's not your fault -- the other legs may be canceled.

"Any time your outbound reservation is changed, you want to be sure to say, 'You're keeping my return protected, correct?' " said Mary Clark, a spokeswoman for Continental.

You might also ask the agent to print your itinerary and call later to reconfirm your flight. And you might also think this is a whole lot of trouble, but being your own best advocate requires maximum effort. Whether it's gathering information, securing your plans or building an itinerary, you simply have to pull out all the stops.

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@ latimes.com.

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