It’s no secret that the summer of 2022 is a terrible time for air travel. Flight cancellations for the first six months of this year have already exceeded the total for all of 2021, making this year the second-worst year for flight cancellations, surpassed only in 2020, when the onset of the pandemic took hold. brought air travel to a near-stop.
Flight cancellation statistics can look like abstract numbers, though, until it happens to you. I know because it happened to me. As a speaker at the Collision Conference, I flew from Seattle to Toronto over the weekend of June 18-19. Exaggerated travel demand, nationwide storms and staff shortages combined to make it the worst weekend for air travel on record, though that record may have since been broken. I learned a lot from that experience and from the research I have done since. Here are my top tips for surviving air travel this summer.
1. Technology can really help you…
Less than 24 hours before my scheduled flight to Toronto, my smartphone rang with an automated call from the airline notifying me that there had been a “change” to my flight and apologizing for any inconvenience. The computer-generated voice offered no further information, so I opened the airline’s website to see what was going on. It turned out that the word “change” distorted the truth a bit. I had originally planned to fly Seattle-Toronto with a brief layover in Calgary. They had now booked this second Calgary-Toronto flight as a flight to Winnipeg with a 27 hour layover, followed by a flight to Toronto which would get me there a full day later than planned. There was no offer to accommodate me for my night in Winnipeg.
At first, besides being angry about the canceled flight, I was also annoyed that I didn’t get a call from a human to tell me about it. But when I thought about it, I realized what was great about this system: it alerted me to the problem much faster than human beings could have, especially considering the number of people likely to be affected by this and other flight cancellations this weekend. This allowed me to get the information I needed immediately, and time is running out when it comes to canceled flights.
2. … but you also need human assistance.
Recently, flight attendant Kristie Koerbe shared some tips for surviving the horrors of air travel this summer. Among his suggestions: Book your trip directly with the airline. The idea is that you will have better bargaining power if your flight is canceled or severely delayed.
Koerbe is a flight attendant and she certainly knows the system better than I do, but I respectfully disagree with that advice. Or at least I disagree if your top priority is to get where you’re going as close to your originally scheduled time as possible. If minimizing additional costs is your top priority, then his approach might be better, I’m not sure.
What I do know is that it was not possible to reach anyone at the airline, although I tried my best. It’s a problem that at least one beleaguered airline CEO has publicly acknowledged. Luckily for me, I hadn’t booked my flight directly with the carrier – I had used an online travel site, a site where I was able to get agents by chat or phone quite reliably over the years. So I did now, and once again I was able to reach someone with relative ease. The agent I had on chat arranged a refund for my “modified” flight, and I used the travel site to book a replacement trip on a combination of two airlines. Admittedly, this led to a considerably higher rate, but on the other hand, it saved me from having to rush for a hotel room in Winnipeg. And it got me where I was going when I was meant to be there.
It stands to reason that a travel agency dealing with multiple airlines, as well as hotels, car rentals and many other forms of travel, will not be as overwhelmed by an increase in customer service demand as an airline during a heavy cancellation. time. At least, that’s how it worked for me.
3. Build a 24 hour buffer if you can.
In this case, I planned to arrive in Toronto the day before I needed it, partly because I didn’t want to start a day where I would be on stage multiple times with a bad case of jet lag. But usually, if I absolutely have to be somewhere on a specific day, I add an extra night because flights and delays happen.
This is also Koerbe’s advice. She remembers a family of eight who missed a cruise departure due to a flight cancellation they hadn’t scheduled in their schedule. Think about it. If a business event is big enough that you need to get on a plane instead of talking on the phone or video chatting, it’s likely to be big enough to make sure you get there. And if you are going on a long-awaited vacation, you will have a better, more relaxed time if you start your trip a day earlier.
4. Beware of short layovers.
Koerbe says a one-hour layover isn’t enough these days, and I agree, especially if you’re using multiple airlines. Just because an airline or travel site is willing to sell you a trip with a short layover doesn’t mean you have to buy it. (And do you really want to be that person frantically rushing through the airport dragging or dragging your carry-on bags that you probably can’t fit in the overhead because all the space is already taken?) Most Travel these days can be managed with one or two flights – multiple layovers can save money, but they also increase the chances of a delayed or canceled flight ruining your trip. So fly nonstop or direct, or with one stopover, if possible.
5. Rethink your checked baggage.
If you’re a seasoned traveler, you may have developed a somewhat cavalier attitude towards checked baggage. At least I know I have. On countless flights, I’ve only twice managed to find my luggage at the carousel when I got off the plane, and in both cases the airline returned my bag to me a day or two later. .
But times are changing. We don’t often think of ground staff as part of the great staff shortage, and yet airlines are short of gate staff, mechanics and baggage handlers, just as they are short of pilots and flight attendants. The result, experts say, is that we should all expect our luggage to get lost far more often than in the past.
With that in mind, think carefully about what you put in your checked baggage and what you take with you on board. Remember to put a Tile or Apple AirTag device in your suitcase to facilitate the search in case of disappearance. And of course, your best bet is not to check your bags at all. Traveling with only hand luggage can make your life easier in a way that makes washing your socks in a hotel sink worthwhile, especially if a flight is canceled or badly delayed while you’re in the middle of a travel. Many airlines have made this task easier by increasing the size of their overhead bins. Take advantage of that extra space and save yourself the headache of checking in a suitcase.
They remind me that the world is big and seeing it through air travel is a privilege. Unfortunately, the journey itself is often a miserable experience. Following these precautions can make your job easier.