Six Travel Mini-Disasters and How to Fix Them

Oh, Lady Gaga, what were you thinking?

Gaga, the singer of monster hits like "Poker Face," may be even more celebrated for her sense of style than her music (she favors outfits long on drama, short on substance) -- and that's the problem. Or it was on a flight out of London last month.

Her legs began to swell but then, yours might too if you were wearing a costume made entirely out of tape. And that's just one of the mini-disasters that can trip up travelers, if you're not prepared.

VIDEO: Gabe Saglie of Travelzoo on what to look out for when booking your travel.Play

I know this sounds pretty basic, but most travel disasters (the ones you'll face, not Gaga) can be avoided with a little homework. And even if you don't plan ahead, there's usually something you can do to make things right. What follows are six fairly common mini-disasters, and how to cope with them (note: see more on Ms. Gaga's potentially dire experience in #6).

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#1: My ID/Passport is Gone

Losing your money or credit cards is bad enough, but you need your license to get through security and your passport for travel outside the U.S.

Before disaster strikes: Make sure a trusted friend or family member has a copy of all your important documents, and you keep a copy too. If you go out for the evening, leave original documents in the hotel safe. If you must keep them with you, put them in an around-your-waist money belt with a flat pocket that slides down the front of your trousers (I've seen these for under $20). You too, ladies; a purse left unattended for even a few seconds can disappear like magic.

After the disaster: Go to the nearest police station and make a report. I know this is a time-consuming pain, but a paper trail can be useful in proving your loss (and if the police ever find your stolen items, they'll be able to contact you quickly).

For missing passports, contact your nearest embassy or consulate; the U.S. State Department has country-by-country listings with addresses and phone contacts.

For a missing license, try working with your auto club representative or check your state's department of motor vehicles Web site. Getting on a plane without your government ID is doable, says the TSA's Greg Soule, who adds, "Passengers should bring other IDs that may be help verify their identity and explain [the circumstances] to the security officer." Expect additional screening, which means get to the airport at least a couple of hours earlier than normal.

#2: I Put the Wrong Name On My Ticket

Before disaster strikes: If you're making the family's flight plans, check everyone's ID before you book (one of my employees has been married 28 years, and she still managed to put the wrong name down for her beloved spouse).

After the disaster: Once a name is on a ticket, it's on there and almost impossible to change; however, if the problem is a small mistake like a spelling error or you entered "no middle initial" on a reservation for someone whose government ID includes that initial, don't panic. Just make sure the "secure flight data" kept on file by your airline matches the passenger's ID.

On American Airlines, for example, just give them a call, and they can make any minor changes needed. The TSA says small mistakes "should not cause a problem," but just in case, get to the airport early.

If you have a completely wrong name -- and by that I mean Bill Smith instead of John Jones -- you are probably out of luck, unless you cancel the reservation within 24 hours of making it, and start all over again. If you do this within that 24 hour period, there's no $150 "change fee" but you might pay more than the original ticket, since airfare can and does rise quickly.

#3: My Bag is Broken, Lost, Damaged

Before disaster strikes: Make sure your bag has a legible ID tag on it, and is in good shape; you might even want to take a picture of it with your cell phone. Leave the valuables at home -- if you read the baggage disclaimers, the airlines essentially say, "Our insurance won't cover the expensive stuff."

After the disaster: Don't leave the airport without making a report or at least talking to someone (and if there is no paperwork to fill out, get the name and number of the person you spoke with). Most airlines give you just 24 hours to file a claim; don't give up your rights.

#4: I've Got a TSA Banned Item In My Carry-On Bag

Before disaster strikes: Know what you can and cannot take with you. The TSA Web site spells it out for you in great detail. You know knives and ice picks are no-no's, but did you know that knitting needles are okay for carry-ons?

After the disaster: You're heading back from a week in Orlando and the TSA guy says "no" to your child's souvenir pirate sword (it's happened). Suck it up and check the bag, or brace yourself for some tears.

#5: I Didn't Get the Specific Side-by-Side Premium Seats I Paid For

Before disaster strikes: Read the fine print before you pay extra for that special seating; United's Web site, for example, says, "Specific seat assignments are not guaranteed" and "This offer is subject to change without notice."

After the disaster: No magic fix here, so just sit back and relax.

#6: My Legs are Swelling During the Flight

Before disaster strikes: Wear comfortable, non-restrictive clothing and shoes; if you've had problems before, see if your doctor wants you to wear "medical grade" support socks. Swollen legs can be a sign of Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT), which can be serious indeed.

After the disaster: Get out of those tight clothes and walk around the plane every hour or so. In Lady Gaga's case, she allegedly had to be coaxed into changing outfits, which I guess took some doing, what with the tape and all.

Gaga has been quoted as saying, "I would rather die than have my fans not see me in a pair of high heels." Sorry Lady, but I'm sure your fans would rather have you around awhile, even in sweats and sneaks.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations including ABC News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.