Travel season is upon us, and if you’ve been to the airport lately for a trip, you’re surely aware of the recent rise in delays, cancellations, and other “flightmare” situations. According to FlightAware, this year more than 820,000 flights have been delayed. Moreover, lines are long to rebook and reschedule canceled trips, and some flights are even offering large sums to get off because they are overbooked.
What’s causing these air travel troubles in recent months? Staffing shortages. Still dealing with the repercussions of layoffs and early retirements offered early in the pandemic, airlines are struggling to return to full staffing capacity. This ranges from not having enough pilots, flight attendants, ground staff, baggage handlers, and more, which in turn leads to canceled flights, terminated routes, and even reduced operations across the country.
Because of these setbacks, flights that are taking off are oftentimes full or even overbooked. With very few ground crews available, delays can occur on the tarmac too, waiting for planes to be parked and baggage to be obtained.
So, what does this mean for your upcoming trips?
While you can’t prevent a flight delay or flight cancellation, there are some steps you can take ahead of time to have a better chance of getting to your destination without interruption.
Download Travel Apps
Make use of the app your airline offers when you fly. You’ll be able to easily see the status of your flight up to 24 hours in advance with these apps, once you’ve checked in. Use the app to get a virtual boarding pass, track where your baggage will be located, check your gate, and or to assist with changing or your flight. This can help you skip the line waiting to rebook a cancelled flight at the airport, and it will often be the first place that gets updated when itineraries are changed.
You may also want to check the weather a few days before a flight. Prior to a significant weather front, some airlines will actually reschedule your flight at no additional cost.
Book in Advance
Always add a buffer when flying to an important event or occasion. Fly a whole day or more in advance, so that in the event you do experience extended flight delays or need to rebook, you won’t miss what you came for. It could very much be worth it to add those extra days to your trip to ensure getting to a wedding, or concert, or to make it onto your cruise on time.
Don’t forget the trip home as well. If you need to be back at work by a certain day, plan a cushion of extra travel time to avoid the stress caused by unexpected delays and changes in route.
Always Fly Early
When choosing a flight, it is always smart to pick the earliest option on the day you want to travel. It may mean waking up at an uncomfortable hour, but you can avoid a buildup of delays from previous flights by taking the first flight of the day. Additionally, morning flights are much less likely to be canceled, and you will have plenty of hours ahead in case anything needs to be rebooked, versus having to push travel to the next day.
Why else is flying early advantageous? Flight crews must time out after 16 hours on the clock, making cancelations due to low backup crews much more likely in the evening. Additionally, heavy storms tend to build up later in the day, which can also lead to delays and grounded planes too.
Remember, waking up early isn’t nearly as painful when you’re going somewhere fun. Become a morning person this once to get your vacay on!
Schedule Long Layovers
Don’t risk missing a connecting flight because of too short of a layover. One hour may seem like enough time to land and board another flight, but in the current travel season, it is not.
Considering the congestion and unpredictability of flight statuses, along with the unknown variable of how long you’ll sit on the tarmac when you land, it’s better to build in time for any unknowns. Experts suggest choosing a 3-hour minimum layover, with current delay patterns in mind. Remember that gates close plane doors around 15 minutes prior to takeoff, so it’s better to be safe than cut it too close!
With how uncertain flight statuses can be this season, it’s never a bad idea to invest in travel insurance. Vacations and trips are not something you want to lose funds over, so spending the extra to insure them is well worth it, and grants peace of mind before and during your trip.
To further safeguard your trip, skip booking from third-party sites during the busiest of the travel season. Airlines can deny boarding if there are more passengers scheduled to fly than available seating, and the first that get booted are typically those who didn’t book with the airline.
Only pack what you need, and make sure your bags aren’t overstuffed for your next trip. Congested airports, long TSA lines, and full flights mean that your luggage will go through a lot, and will likely need to be squished next to other carry-ons if you bring it on the plane. Keep the stow-away process simple by packing light, and having everything you may need during travel (ID, passport, boarding pass, medications, snacks, light reading) in an easily accessible pocket.
During the summer, flight crews suggest bringing a sweater on the plane if you get cold easily, as the AC will be on. You may sit on the tarmac for some time before or after your flight, so a book, a magazine, or downloading extra movies to your phone may be a smart idea!
Keep in mind that if you are caught in a screening delay, your flight will not be held for you. Get to the airport as early as you can for your trip to make sure you can get through TSA in time to board.
Consider Alternate Transportation
Upcoming vacation plans still in the works? Consider a different mode of transportation other than flying. Skipping the airport altogether can help you directly avoid the high risk of delays and flight cancellations, especially if your travel destination is only a few hours away. Take a charter bus, or the train, or perhaps book a luxury car transport service to get you to your vacation spot.
If you do need to fly, stay in the know about which locations and airlines are experiencing the most itinerary changes and how frequently they can happen. Bigger hubs like New York and Miami may see higher numbers of delays and cancellations, but with their size and access they also offer more options for rerouting and rebooking.
Or, you could always avoid the long lines and disruptions completely with a staycation. Become a tourist in your own locale, planning day trips to visit the wonders of the place you call home. Get your own black car service for the trip and make the experience truly unforgettable.