Travel experts offer tips for surviving flight cancellations and delays

Even though flight cancellations and delays continue to rise this summer, the experience doesn’t have to be so nerve-wracking, travel industry experts say.

Airlines are struggling to keep pace with unprecedented demand that is unlikely to subside until the fall, travel experts and government officials predict.

“The summer travel season is expected to be very busy with passenger volumes nearly matching or exceeding those of 2019,” said R. Carter Langston, spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration.

More than 11.3 million travelers passed through airport security checkpoints nationwide from June 30 to July 4, just 7% less than the same five-day holiday period before COVID-19 in 2019, according to the TSA.

WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW

  • Air travel in the summer should be as busy as it was in 2019, which the TSA said was the busiest season on record.
  • As airlines struggle to keep pace shortage of personnel, travel is expected to remain somewhat unstable until the fall.
  • Some major airlines blame regulators and staff shortages for flight disruptions, while pilots’ unions decry overscheduling and airline mismanagement.

The busiest day this year was July 1, when 2.49 million people were screened, surpassing the previous post-pandemic record of 2.46 million screened on June 26. Before the pandemic, the TSA screened an average of 2 to 2.5 million travelers per day.

Travel advisers, including Rebecca Alesia, owner of Oyster Bay-based Wanderology Luxury Travel, are seeing the rise. Alesia said bookings have increased by at least 20% since 2019.

“Advisors in my office are working 14, 15 and 16 hour days to keep up,” she said. “The request is unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s a frenzy.

Wanderology Luxury Travel owner Rebecca Alesia is working from her home office in Oyster Bay on Thursday.
Credit: Morgan Campbell

With the frenzy, however, consumers have faced delays and cancellations.

There have been back and forth over the causes of the disruptions, with some major airlines blaming regulators and staff shortages, while pilots’ unions point to airline overruns and mismanagement. The weather also played a role.

Jon Roitman, CEO of United Airlines, said in a memo earlier this week that there were more scheduled flights than the Federal Aviation Administration could handle, particularly in New York and Florida.

Over the past four months, more than 50% of delays and 75% of cancellations at United were the result of the agency’s traffic management, Roitman claims in the memo. In a statement, the FAA said the majority of delays and cancellations are not the result of agency staffing, but admitted that air traffic control capacity is one factor among many that can lead to industry-wide problems.

Uncertainties can test a person’s patience and nerves, but experts have offered some travel advice.

When to fly

To guard against the delays that often reverberate into the afternoon and evening, travel experts recommend booking flights early in the morning. That’s because thunderstorms are more likely in the afternoon during the summer, according to the National Weather Service.

Seventy-five percent of all air travel delays come from the New York area, creating a ripple effect across the country, said AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. Outdated air traffic used to track and detect aircraft are partly to blame, Sinclair said.

“With radar, when storms happen, they have to space out planes,” Sinclair said. “Planes usually fly within two to three miles of each other, and when the weather is bad they space them between 25 and 50 miles between planes – and that causes delays.

Radar technology has improved, but there are still inaccuracies and time lags, according to the US Department of Transportation.

In April, the Federal Aviation Administration received $1 billion to revamp the country’s air traffic control system. The funding is part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden.

It’s also a good idea to fly midweek, on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, versus busier weekends, Sinclair said.

Getting to the airport

Taking public transportation, carpooling or a car service rather than sneaking into airport parking lots is another way to avoid headaches, experts said.

Kennedy and LaGuardia airports have fewer parking spaces than in 2019, in part due to construction, according to the Port Authority. Kennedy’s green garage closed Friday for demolition related to the construction of Terminal One.

With more passengers driving to catch their flights and car parks reaching capacity, the Port Authority is urging travelers to pre-book spaces. Motorists who do not book in advance will be charged a summer supplement.

If taking public transit to LaGuardia, Long Island Rail Road riders can stop at the Woodside station and take the free Q70 bus onto Roosevelt Avenue.

Robert Sinclair Jr., AAA Northeast spokesperson, at Little Bay Park...

Robert Sinclair Jr., spokesperson for AAA Northeast, at Little Bay Park in Bayside on Thursday.
Credit: Danielle Silverman

Navigate in the terminal

To avoid long lines, passengers should consider enrolling in fast-track programs such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, or private company Clear, travel experts said.

“I was on a flight out of Portland airport a few weeks ago, [and] if I hadn’t had TSA PreCheck I would have missed my flight… I normally showed up 90 minutes early and the TSA lines were at the door. Give yourself an extra buffer,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

As of January, more than 27 million people had signed up for government traveler programs for expedited screening, a 44.8% increase since 2019, according to the TSA.

Passengers with TSA PreCheck, which costs $85 for five years, do not have to remove their shoes, laptops, belts or light jackets and can also keep their small bag of liquid containers inside their carry-on luggage. . Most clear security in five minutes or less, according to the TSA.

Global Entry costs $100 and is also valid for five years. Global Entry provides expedited screening for international passengers and includes TSA PreCheck.

Clear uses biometric screening for identity verification and claims to speed up traveler security, with an annual fee of $189.

To reduce wait times for passport control, experts suggest downloading the mobile passport app from the Customs and Border Protection website.

Have a backup plan

Some travelers have resorted to booking concurrent vacations during the same period, also known as trip stacking, due to the pandemic and flight volatility. Alesia said she booked three honeymoons for a couple in December last year because it was unclear whether their No. 1 choice, Tahiti in French Polynesia, would remain open.

Eventually, the couple arrived in Tahiti.

“If you know you have to be back on a certain day, it’s not a bad idea to book a backup carrier and take it out and have the second option for the next day. It’s definitely a creative way to handle the current situation,” Alesia said.

Before booking multiple flights on the same airlines, it’s important to understand airline and cancellation policies, she said.

Refund of canceled flights

If a trip was booked with a credit card, experts recommend checking the card’s travel protection plan or purchasing additional travel insurance. In the worst case, the law offers some relief.

“Last thing – remember that federal law states that if an airline cancels or significantly changes your flight, you are entitled to a full cash refund,” Keyes said. “You don’t have to take an airline voucher. You don’t have to take flight credit.