The Do’s and Don’ts For An Unpredictable Summer of Flying
Air travel is the Wild West right now. Here’s how to make it through.
Airports are the Wild West right now. With a flood of summer travelers and ongoing staffing shortages, flying right now can be a headache. Last Friday marked the busiest travel day since the Sunday after Thanksgiving, said Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Lisa Farbstein, with more than 2.4 million travelers passing through checkpoints.
“Of course, there has been a pent-up demand for travel,” she said. “People are sick and tired of their living rooms.”
Travel chaos has become the norm lately, but there are a few things you can do to make your life easier. “Plan ahead and pack your patience,” said Jai Ferrell, deputy general manager and chief commercial officer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Follow these do’s and don’ts to survive the airport this summer.
Do get to the airport early
Even if you’re the person who likes to cut your airport arrival time close, get there early this summer. Labor shortages with airlines and TSA and an increased number of travelers have created the perfect storm.
“Arriving at least two hours ahead gives you time to navigate parking options, airline check-in and process through security before making your way to your gate,” Ferrell said. Ahead of the busy summer season, some airports started recommending travelers arrive even earlier for domestic flights.
“Don’t procrastinate and get to the airport an hour before your flight,” said Heath Montgomery, a spokesperson for Los Angeles International Airport. “You probably won’t make it.”
TSA lines can be unpredictable, and you don’t want to miss a flight because you were stuck in security. If you travel often, consider applying for TSA PreCheck or other line-cutting services, such as CLEAR or Global Entry. They will get you to shorter lines and minimize what you need to remove before inspection.
“Enrolling in Pre-Check is a great way to avoid some of the extra unpacking someone might have to do at the checkpoint. For instance, with Pre-Check, passengers don’t need to unpack their laptops,” said Scott R. Elmore, spokesperson for the Airports Council International in North America.
Don’t check a bag
Taking only a carry-on can make the travel process smoother. It’ll allow you to skip the baggage drop-off line at the airline counter. Plus, if your flight gets canceled or delayed, a checked bag could add another layer to your plans and hold you back.
“Generally speaking, traveling light means you can skip the check-in counters and go right to security screening,” Montgomery said.
Since flight crews are short-staffed, a checked bag could be more susceptible to getting lost. If it happens to you, here is our best advice on what to do and what you’re entitled to.
Do consider coronavirus precautions
While people are traveling like it’s 2019, health experts warn that coronavirus risks remain.
Though the U.S. testing rule for international arrivals ended this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health experts still recommend testing before travel — ideally within three days of your trip. If you test positive, don’t travel.
Health experts also say those who want to protect themselves from the coronavirus should continue to cover their face, especially in crowded indoor spaces. And if you’re nervous about sitting next to unmasked seatmates, there are ways to politely ask them to consider a mask.
Don’t rely on airport restaurants
Relying on Biscoff cookies or tiny pretzels for sustenance is never a good idea, especially during a long flight. Get ahead of your hunger by packing snacks from home.
The completely correct guide to being back in an airport
Under TSA rules, food is allowed without any quantity limitations, but liquid items — think applesauce, yogurt and drinks — need to be 3.4 ounces or less. Farbstein, the TSA spokesperson, also recommends that passengers bring an empty water bottle to fill up on the other side of security. “You save yourself a few bucks,” she added.
Bringing your own snacks will also help you avoid spending $20 on chicken fingers at a crowded airport bar or scrounging at Hudson News. Plus, bringing your own food means not having to wait in line at the limited restaurants, which are dealing with their own staffing issues.
Do expect long lines for Ubers and taxis
More people at the airport means more people trying to get ride-shares or taxis after they land.
“What we have seen in the U.S., and globally, is that the speed of recovery and demand to travel has been far faster than anyone expected,” said Matthys Serfontein, the president of Americas at SITA, an air transport communications and information technology company.
Labor shortages are hitting the ride-hailing apps, leading to higher prices and longer wait times. Schedule ahead if you can. If you’re familiar with the transportation pick-up spot at the airport, order your Uber or Lyft when you get off the plane.
Don’t schedule the ride before your flight, though, because you never know if you will run into flight delays or cancellations.
Or better (and greener) yet: Consider public transportation to your destination or a bike-sharing alternative, if your airport has them.
Do ask if you’re entitled to compensation for flight issues
If your flight gets canceled, you may be entitled to compensation. Per Department of Transportation rules, if an airline cancels or significantly changes your flight and you want to cancel completely, the airline is required to give you a refund. Every airline has a different definition of “significant.”
How to get refunds if your flight is canceled
If you decide to take a severely delayed or rescheduled flight, an airline might still compensate you — but you won’t know unless you ask. Employees may offer a hotel room, meal vouchers or credits for future travel.
It’s best to start with customer service at the airport since a representative on the phone or online may not be able to offer you vouchers or local accommodations.
Do fly early and direct
Flying early in the day might mean your flight is less likely to get canceled — and you will have more options if it does. Flight cancellations, especially because of weather, can have a domino effect.
“Generally, we see severe weather begin later in the afternoon during the summer,” Montgomery said. For example, flying in the morning could help avoid afternoon thunderstorms in the Rocky Mountains, he said.
“Most airports also generally have fewer flights in the earlier part of the day, compared with the afternoons and the evenings,” he added. “There are fewer crowds to contend with during the morning hours.”
Direct flights, when available, have obvious benefits. Connecting flights mean more flights that can be canceled, missed or delayed. Plus, the money that you can end up spending during a long layover can surpass what you saved by choosing a non-direct option.
Don’t rely on getting the airline on the phone
Airlines have been plagued with long hold times throughout the pandemic. If you need to speak to someone in customer service or rebook a flight, there are alternative ways to communicate with the airline.
Spending hours on hold with airlines? Here’s why and what you can do.
Start by doubling up: send a message to the airline on social media and find a customer service email or chat function. Sometimes Twitter is the fastest way to get to a customer service representative. When messaging, make sure to provide as much information as possible, including your confirmation number and the new flight you want, to eliminate back and forth.
And remember: Be kind.
~The Washington Post